Controlling material degradability through stereochemistry

Many plastics are used by humans for only a few minutes before being discarded to sit in a landfill for generations. New strategies to degrade plastics are urgently needed, and fundamental stereochemistry may provide a solution. Recent reports have shown synthetic polymers that adopt elongated linear conformations, rather than globular spherical ones, are more rapidly degraded by shearing forces into their constituent monomers. Typically, modifying this morphology requires changing the monomer identity and manipulating either sterics or charge. Instead, we will leverage stereochemical control of polymer backbones to dictate the overall chain conformation. This project will therefore involve both synthesizing polymers with variable backbone stereochemistry, and investigating their morphology and degradation profiles.  

Essay prompt: In 1-2 paragraphs, please describe what motivates you to pursue this research opportunity, and what you are hoping to gain from a full-time summer research experience. Please also include at least one question you have about the proposed research.

Name of research group, project, or lab
Brucks Research Group
Why join this research group or lab?

The Brucks research group is a new team at Harvey Mudd, and all students joining will have the opportunity to help establish our foundation. This specific project will afford training in techniques from both organic chemistry and polymer science, including characterization with NMR, size-exclusion chromatography (SEC), and ultrasonication. In addition to lab techniques, supportive collaboration and effective communication of results will be heavily emphasized. Our team will always center respect and inclusivity to foster an environment where everyone can succeed.

Representative publication
Logistics Information:
Project categories
Materials Science
Molecular Design
Polymer Science
Student ranks applicable
Student qualifications

We welcome all who are interested in experimental interdisciplinary science, especially those with identities that have been historically excluded from STEM. Preference will be given to individuals who are current members of the group.

Time commitment
Summer - Full Time
Paid Research
Number of openings
Techniques learned

Group members will learn techniques in polymer synthesis and characterization, as well as primary literature analysis, effective communication of results, and project management.

Contact Information:
Spencer Brucks
Principal Investigator
Name of project director or principal investigator
Spencer D Brucks
Email address of project director or principal investigator
1 sp. | 18 appl.
Hours per week
Summer - Full Time
Project categories
Polymer Science (+4)
ChemistryMaterials ScienceMolecular DesignPolymer ScienceSustainability