Issue Date: February 4, 2008
ACS Award in Applied Polymer Science
Sponsored by Eastman Chemical Co.
P. Anne Hiltner is being honored for pioneering contributions that have clarified the relationships between the structure and properties of polymers, polymer blends, and composites.
Hiltner is the Herbert Henry Dow Professor in the macromolecular science and engineering department at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland. She also directs the National Science Foundation Science & Technology Center for Layered Polymeric Systems.
Gary E. Wnek, chair of Hiltner's department, notes that her wide-ranging interests have enabled her to make "important contributions in such diverse areas as using fracture mechanics to predict creep failure from short-term fatigue, creating gas barrier materials using fundamental diffusion models, and elucidating mechanisms for improving biostability of polymer implants."
Collaborations with industry are important to Hiltner. Her work with Dow Chemical has significantly affected the firm's polymer business, according to Kurt W. Swogger, vice president of performance plastics and chemicals R&D at Dow. "From our collaborative work, we were able to build a billion-pound business over the past 12 years," he says. Products include polyethylenes, polypropylene-based elastomers, and ethylene/1-octene block copolymers. Hiltner helped develop molecular models that "allow precise predictions of properties that give guidance to our synthetic chemists toward targeting very specific molecular structures," Swogger says. The fundamental insights that emerged from the collaboration "have already improved the science of polymers in a major way, and their breadth and scope have yet to be fully appreciated," he adds.
Swogger also praises Hiltner's educational abilities, noting that Dow has hired five of her Ph.D. graduates in the past few years. "Her students are outstanding, and they set a benchmark in our company for expectations for materials scientists," he says.
Hiltner is currently engrossed in exploring the potential of a new coextrusion technique she developed with her departmental colleague Eric Baer. The method produces very thin alternating layers of two or three types of polymers, and it enables the researchers to examine the behavior of the "interphase" regions between the pairs of layers. The technique also allows the scientists to study crystallization in confined spaces. The team has made films with as many as 4,000 layers. Applications include photonic crystals and an all-plastic laser.
Hiltner, who is 66, earned a B.A. in chemistry in 1963 from Reed College, Portland, Ore., and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Oregon State University, Corvallis, in 1967. She then began her career at Case as a research associate.
When she was looking for her first job after grad school "there were a whole lot of chemists around," Hiltner recalls, "and the appointment I got was actually in the polymer program at Case. So I had to develop a research program using my chemistry background but applying it in a field that I really had not been trained in. Gradually, my research interests evolved more into materials science. It felt like I fit there."
She confesses to being "thrilled to be given this award. When I started out," she says, "my ambitions were to have an academic career. I don't think it ever occurred to me that my career would be worthy of this kind of recognition. It's very thrilling that a group of my colleagues think that it is."
The award address will be presented before the Division of Polymeric Materials: Science & Engineering.
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