Brooks Abel, Ph.D. – UC Berkeley

Please tell us about your background: where you grew up, studied, and why you chose the field you did.

I grew up in McComb, MS and after high school I attended Southwest Mississippi Community College where I obtained an Associate’s degree in Chemistry. I then received my bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in Polymer Science at the School of Polymer Science and Engineering at the University of Southern Mississippi. During my Ph.D. work I used RAFT polymerizations to synthesize stimuli-responsive polymers for siRNA delivery. Upon completion of my Ph.D. I joined the research group of Prof. Geoffrey Coates at Cornell University working on developing catalysts for anionic and cationic ring-opening polymerizations to synthesize polyesters and polyacetals for applications ranging from chemically recyclable thermoplastics to polymer electrolytes for lithium-ion batteries. In July 2021 I started as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley.

What does your current position entail? How does it tie into your previous experience, and where is it going?

I am currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry at UC Berkeley. My undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral research centered around using radical, anionic, cationic, and ring-opening polymerizations to address issues ranging from drug delivery to plastics recycling. My research group at UCB focuses on developing new synthetic methods and polymer materials to address issues associated with polymer sustainability. We are also developing operationally simple living polymerization methods that are more accessible to researchers without extensive synthetic expertise.

In what context did you first learn about light scattering and Wyatt Technology's instruments?

I have been using Wyatt multi-angle light scattering (MALS) and refractive index (RI) detectors for more than a decade to measure absolute molecular weights and dispersities of polymers.

How has your Wyatt instrumentation contributed to your research and development studies?

Determining the absolute molecular weight of a polymer sample is crucial to understanding the controlled and living nature of a polymerization method. For example, deviation of the experimental molecular weight (Mn,exp) from the theoretical molecular weight (Mn,th) is indicative of poor initiation efficiency, chain transfer, termination, and/or catalyst degradation, among other variables. These are all critical factors that influence the control and livingness of a polymerization method. Additionally, many polymer properties are closely related to molecular weight and polymer architecture. MALS provides a convenient means of measuring absolute molecular weight, dispersity, and branching to study relating trends in polymer properties. By contrast, Mn,exp values obtained using conventional SEC often deviates from the absolute Mn,exp values due to the differences between the hydrodynamic volumes of the polymer being analyzed and the polymer standards used to generate the calibration curve.