ACS Award In Polymer Chemistry | January 28, 2008 Issue - Vol. 86 Issue 4 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 4 | pp. 84-85 | Awards
Issue Date: January 28, 2008

ACS Award In Polymer Chemistry

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry
Department: ACS News
Credit: Courtesy of James E. McGrath
Credit: Courtesy of James E. McGrath

Sponsored by ExxonMobil Chemical Co.

"An icon in the field of polymer science," is how one colleague describes James E. McGrath, a University Distinguished Professor and Ethyl Corp. Chair in Chemistry at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University. "I cannot imagine a more highly qualified scientist to receive this important recognition," another says.

McGrath has spent the past 40 years making important contributions to the field of polymer chemistry. After spending eight years in synthetic rubber research at Goodyear Tire & Rubber, he received a Ph.D. in polymer science from the University of Akron, Ohio, in 1967. His doctoral research generated some of the first academic results dealing with the organolithium synthesis and chemical structure/physical property relationships of thermoplastic elastomeric block copolymers. He moved on to work for eight years at Union Carbide, where he was involved in many areas, including the Unipol gas-phase process for polyolefins, engineering thermoplastics, urethanes, and siloxane chemistry.

He joined the chemistry department at Virginia Tech in 1975 as an assistant professor and was named full professor five years later. He was instrumental in starting the undergraduate and graduate polymer chemistry courses at Virginia Tech. He was appointed director of the Materials Institute there in 1987 and directed the National Science Foundation Science & Technology Center for High-Performance Polymeric Adhesives & Composites from 1989 to 2000. Since 1979, he has also codirected the Polymer Materials & Interface Laboratory at Virginia Tech, which sponsored an industrial affiliate's program and seminar series until 2004. He is currently a codirector of the Macromolecules & Interfaces Institute.

McGrath has made many well-known research contributions to the area of high-performance and high-temperature polymers. His group was among the first to recognize and demonstrate the significant improvement in fracture toughness of thermosets modified with microphase-separated ductile thermoplastics. Such materials have emerged to become the matrix material of choice for such demanding applications as composite matrix resins and structural adhesives for use in aerospace applications. More recently, his research has led to new materials for proton exchange membrane-based fuel cells.

During his early years at Virginia Tech, McGrath investigated living anionic polymerization. His fundamental chemistry research has included many contributions to organolithium polymerizations over a period of nearly 30 years and to ring-opening polymerization especially of epoxides. In organosiloxane chemistry he has generated a number of new synthetic methods to produce functional oligomers. He has also maintained an active research interest in the area of polyarylene ethers. His current research interests feature new directly copolymerized sulfonated wholly aromatic copolymers for proton exchange membranes (fuel cells), which have become the first viable alternative membrane to the current perfluorinated system. His work has generated more than 40 patents, and he is the author of more than 400 refereed publications. He has directed the Ph.D. theses of more than 100 students over the past 30 years.

McGrath has been an active consultant to a variety of companies, including 3M, Amoco, Shell, and Dow Chemical. He has organized numerous workshops on polyolefins and polyurethanes and chaired Gordon Research Conferences on elastomers, polymers, and thermosets. Most recently, he organized a series of conferences on materials for fuel cells.

He has received numerous awards and honors including the Society of Plastics Engineers Research Award (1987); election to the National Academy of Engineering (1994); the ACS Award in Applied Polymer Science (2002); and from the ACS Division of Polymer Chemistry the Distinguished Service Award (1999); and the P. J. Flory Education Award (2004).

The award address will be presented before the Division of Polymer Chemistry.

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