Please tell us about your background: where you grew up, studied, and why you chose the field you did.
I grew up in Fargo, ND, and completed my B.S. in Chemistry at the University of North Dakota. My undergraduate research experiences were in organometallics and polymeric materials, which led me to join Geoff Coates’ group at Cornell University for my graduate studies as an NSF graduate research fellow. Despite working in a polymer catalysis group, I didn’t make a single polymer in graduate school, instead of focusing on catalyst development and physical organic chemistry. After earning my Ph.D. in 2017, I moved to MIT where I was an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Jeremiah Johnson, working on oxygen-tolerant radical polymerization and “living” gel materials that can be re-initiated and altered through successive polymerization steps.
What does your current position entail? How does it tie into your previous experience, and where is it going?
As an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota, I get to combine my love of research, teaching, mentoring, and service to the chemistry community. My group works at the interface of organic, catalysis, and polymer chemistry. We develop methods to make new polymers and design catalysts that can impart new modes of control over polymerizations. We are particularly interested in studying better ways to synthesize―and subsequently degrade―sustainable polyurethanes, and understand their structure-property relationships.
In what context did you first learn about light scattering and Wyatt instruments?
I had heard about light scattering in my polymer chemistry class in graduate school, but it wasn’t a common technique in my group. I just knew that it could give absolute instead of relative molecular weight data using SEC. When I moved to my postdoc group, which uses a Wyatt SEC-MALS system, I saw how critical light scattering is for studying materials like bottlebrush polymers, which have drastically different hydrodynamic volumes compared to typical linear standards and therefore do not match the retention volume/molar mass curves obtained with polymer standards.
How has your Wyatt instrumentation contributed to your research and development studies?
We use SEC-MALS to assess the molecular weight and dispersity of a wide variety of synthetic polymers. This technique has proven particularly valuable for rigid polyurethanes with rings in the backbone, giving us confidence in our molecular weight data for such complex architectures.
With SEC-MALS, we can be sure that molecular weight analyses are accurate regardless of polymer composition, architecture, or conformation.