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Released June 9, 2003


HATTIESBURG - The year 2002 was one of distinction for The University of Southern Mississippi President Dr. Shelby Thames.

Not only did the pioneering polymer researcher assume the role as the university's eighth president in May, but the former distinguished research professor oversaw the commercialization of American Pride Paint, an environmentally friendly coating used in the reconstruction of the Pentagon, and led multiple research projects meeting the needs of both industries and consumers.

Now Thames can add another distinction to last year's list.

For bridging the gap between academia and industry and his work in research activities in the area of paint and coatings, Thames has been recognized as the 2002 R&D Person of the Year by Modern Paint and Coatings magazine.

"I am exceedingly humbled by this most significant honor," Thames told Modern Paint and Coatings in an article this spring featuring the founder of Southern Miss's internationally recognized polymer science program. "To love polymer research as I do and to be chosen for such a significant award is beyond my wildest expectations."

The magazine article detailed Thames' work with American Pride Paint, developed from an agricultural product by university researchers in Southern Miss's School of Polymers and High Performance Materials. The Pentagon used about 20,000 gallons of American Pride to paint about one-fifth of its interior, including the wing damaged in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Using castor oil, researchers constructed a chemical building block called a monomer that was built into the chemical base of the paint. That monomer - called a "castor oil acrylated monomer" - takes the place of a solvent in the formulation of the paint. In turn, that dramatically reduces the amount of toxic pollutants given off by water-based paint into the atmosphere.

Thames said conventional paints contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which pollute the air and give fresh paints their unpleasant odor. Although the paint industry has been called upon to reduce VOCs, it has not had the means to do so until now, Thames said.

The new technology developed at Southern Miss will remove VOCs from the paint and cut the level of pollutants from about 200-400 grams per liter of paint to as low as three grams.

Thames' ability to transform research into economic development has drawn praise from his colleagues as well as industry analysts.

"Shelby Thames is that rare individual in academia with the vision to see beyond his research laboratory to the needs of the marketplace," said Dr. R.D. Ellender, associate dean for research in the College of Science and Technology and a professor of microbiology at Southern Miss.

"Dr. Thames' ability to blend complex research with industrial need and economic reality has been a tremendous benefit, both to the university and to the state of Mississippi."

Thames told Modern Paint and Coatings that American Pride was born out of his desire to discover a technology that would allow the production of high-performance, environmentally friendly and cost-effective coatings.

"Most particularly, my interest in utilizing agricultural crops (renewable sources) as a complement to petroleum-derived products was also a driving force in this work," he said.

Founder of the Thames Research Group, Thames is probably best known in industry circles as the father of Southern Miss's polymer science program, which he started in 1970 when he became the only faculty member in the department overseeing 10 graduate students. In 1991, a new polymer science research center was completed, and named in his honor five years later. Known as the Shelby Freeland Thames Polymer Science Research Center, it houses the Department of Polymer Science and Mississippi Polymer Institute.

The focus of the Thames Research Group is to meet industrial and consumer needs through basic research, fused with product development, or products designed to perform and to be economically viable.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM