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Cathy Mulzer

Materials maven has powered up covalent organic frameworks and other polymers

by Matt Davenport
August 20, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 33

Coping with uncertainty is part of the job for any scientist. DowDuPont's Cathy Mulzer handles it with more aplomb than most. It seems almost as if she can look into the future and bring back instructions on how best to overcome obstacles facing her while developing advanced polymer materials in the lab.

Her Ph.D. adviser at Cornell University, William Dichtel, has an explanation that doesn't involve clairvoyance, however. "She's the perfect combination of intellectual firepower and outstanding attitude for research," says Dichtel, who is now at Northwestern University.

Mulzer's work in Dichtel's group is a prime example of these qualities. She investigated an emerging class of materials known as covalent organic frameworks, or COFs. COFs are porous crystalline polymers with insanely high surface areas, which make them attractive for things like catalysis and gas storage and separation.

She's the perfect combination of intellectual firepower and outstanding attitude for research.
William Dichtel, Northwestern University

Mulzer reasoned that because of their vast surface areas, COFs would also provide a wealth of parking spots for electrical charge carriers, making them attractive candidates for energy storage applications.

But existing COFs couldn't do the electrochemistry needed to shuttle those charges around—a necessity for energy storage. So step one for Mulzer and her colleagues was to synthesize a COF with redox active sites, which the team achieved with help from anthraquinone building blocks.

Making some of the first meaningful electrochemical measurements of COFs was really exciting, Mulzer says. The readings, however, revealed that the team had tapped into the electrochemical activity of only 3% of the polymer's available anthraquinone redox sites. "There's no way to sugarcoat it," she says. "It didn't work that well."

But that didn't deter Mulzer. To help charges get where they needed to go within the polymer, she learned to grow oriented thin films of the COF and then infiltrate its pores with conducting polymer. That 3% figure ballooned to 100%, she says, greatly boosting the COF's electrochemical performance.

While Mulzer was helping establish COFs as viable electronic materials with her persistence and chemical intuition, unbeknownst to her, she was also securing her future job. Both Dichtel and Cornell collaborator Héctor D. Abruña started recommending Mulzer to Dow recruiters two years before her graduation in May 2016.

Mulzer joined Dow that June, just over a year before the Dow-DuPont merger. She's not at liberty to discuss too many of the details of what she's working on for the company. However, her colleagues are eager to share that, in addition to developing next-generation polymer materials, she's been strengthening her workplace community.

Watch Mulzer speak at the American Chemical Society national meeting on Aug. 20 in Boston.
Credit: C&EN/ACS Productions

Vitals

Current affiliation: DowDuPont

Age: 29

Ph.D. alma mater: Cornell University

If I weren't a chemist, I would be: The owner of a bakery and ice cream shop. I love making desserts that make people smile.

If I were an element, I would be: Carbon. I am an organic chemist at my core, so I could not pick another element.

Latest TV show binge-watched: "Frasier" and "Chef's Table"

Walk-up song: "Shake and Vent," the Cornell chemistry department's parody of "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift

Research at a glance


Credit: ACS Cent. Sci./Yang H. Ku/C&EN/Shutterstock

During graduate school, Mulzer and her coworkers synthesized the first covalent organic framework (COF) capable of interesting electrochemistry. She then beefed up the material's energy-storing performance by improving its crystalline ordering and combining it with a conductive polymer electrolyte.

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Electronic Materials

Cathy Mulzer

Materials maven has powered up covalent organic frameworks and other polymers

by Matt Davenport
August 19, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 33

09633-cover9-cathymulzer.jpg
Credit: Joel Kimmel
Cathy Mulzer
09633-cover9-research.jpg
Credit: ACS Cent. Sci./Yang H. Ku/C&EN/Shutterstock
During graduate school, Mulzer and her coworkers synthesized the first covalent organic framework (COF) capable of interesting electrochemistry. She then beefed up the material’s energy-storing performance by improving its crystalline ordering and combining it with a conductive polymer electrolyte.

Vitals

Current affiliation: DowDuPont

Age: 29

Ph.D. alma mater: Cornell University

If I weren’t a chemist, I would be: The owner of a bakery and ice cream shop. I love making desserts that make people smile.

If I were an element, I would be: Carbon. I am an organic chemist at my core, so I could not pick another element.

Latest TV show binge-watched: “Frasier” and “Chef’s Table”

Walk-up song: “Shake and Vent,” the Cornell chemistry department’s parody of “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift

Three key papers

“Superior Charge Storage and Power Density of a Conducting Polymer-Modified Covalent Organic Framework” (ACS Cent. Sci. 2016, DOI: 10.1021/acscentsci.6b00220)

“Moving Beyond Boron: The Emergence of New Linkage Chemistries in Covalent Organic Frameworks” (Macromolecules 2016, DOI: 10.1021/acs.macromol.6b00891)

“β-Ketoenamine-Linked Covalent Organic Frameworks Capable of Pseudocapacitive Energy Storage” (J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2013, DOI: 10.1021/ja409421d)

Coping with uncertainty is part of the job for any scientist. DowDuPont’s Cathy Mulzer handles it with more aplomb than most. It seems almost as if she can look into the future and bring back instructions on how best to overcome obstacles facing her while developing advanced polymer materials in the lab.

Her Ph.D. adviser at Cornell University, William Dichtel, has an explanation that doesn’t involve clairvoyance, however. “She’s the perfect combination of intellectual firepower and outstanding attitude for research,” says Dichtel, who is now at Northwestern University.

Mulzer’s work in Dichtel’s group is a prime example of these qualities. She investigated an emerging class of materials known as covalent organic frameworks, or COFs. COFs are porous crystalline polymers with insanely high surface areas, which make them attractive for things like catalysis and gas storage and separation.

Mulzer reasoned that because of their vast surface areas, COFs would also provide a wealth of parking spots for electrical charge carriers, making them attractive candidates for energy storage applications.

But existing COFs couldn’t do the electrochemistry needed to shuttle those charges around—a necessity for energy storage. So step one for Mulzer and her colleagues was to synthesize a COF with redox active sites, which the team achieved with help from anthraquinone building blocks.

Making some of the first meaningful electrochemical measurements of COFs was really exciting, Mulzer says. The readings, however, revealed that the team had tapped into the electrochemical activity of only 3% of the polymer’s available anthraquinone redox sites. “There’s no way to sugarcoat it,” she says. “It didn’t work that well.”

But that didn’t deter Mulzer. To help charges get where they needed to go within the polymer, she learned to grow oriented thin films of the COF and then infiltrate its pores with conducting polymer. That 3% figure ballooned to 100%, she says, greatly boosting the COF’s electrochemical performance.

While Mulzer was helping establish COFs as viable electronic materials with her persistence and chemical intuition, unbeknownst to her, she was also securing her future job. Both Dichtel and Cornell collaborator Héctor D. Abruña started recommending Mulzer to Dow recruiters two years before her graduation in May 2016.

Mulzer joined Dow that June, just over a year before the Dow-DuPont merger. She’s not at liberty to discuss too many of the details of what she’s working on for the company. However, her colleagues are eager to share that, in addition to developing next-generation polymer materials, she’s been strengthening her workplace community.

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