October 23, 2014  

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Polymer Science Professor’s NSF Grant Includes Partnership with Local Industry

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Dr. Joshua Otaigbe, right, professor of polymer science at The University of Southern Mississippi, is congratulated by Clayton M. Stanger, U.S. Consul at the American Presence Post in Lyon, France on being named Tocqueville-Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Engineering.

Polymer science students at The University of Southern Mississippi will see how their research translates into the marketplace in a project supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

Dr. Joshua Otaigbe, a professor of polymer science and engineering, earned a highly-competitive Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry (GOALI) research award from the NSF’s Division of Materials Research. The award includes $465,000 for the initiative that supports research in the development of glass-matrix nanocomposites for new and existing industrial uses in automotive, building construction, transparent hard coatings, security uses and consumer application areas.

Otaigbe’s research group in the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials is undertaking the multi-year interdisciplinary project in collaboration with Hybrid Plastics in Hattiesburg, which began July 1.

“This project intersects with the nation’s current interest in developing micro- and nano-length scale materials and processing technologies, and will provide useful training for our graduate students and a number of research experiences for undergraduate students,” Otaigbe said.

The objective of the GOALI program is to synergize university-industry partnerships by making funds available to support an eclectic mix of industry-university linkages. The program enhances the ability of faculty, postdoctoral fellows and students to conduct research and gain experience with production processes in an industrial setting. It also brings industrial scientists and engineers to the University and forms academic-industry teams to conduct long-term projects. 

Hybrid Plastics’ complementary expertise and research resources will be leveraged to develop optically transparent glass-matrix nanocomposites, wherein special molecular silica is chemically incorporated into ultra-low melting phosphate glass with enhanced benefits. Those benefits will include optical clarity and improved strength and crashworthiness for special security uses, as well as self-healing of glass via low-temperature annealing.

The project will also make a significant impact on economic development in Mississippi and the U.S. in the area of nano-structured ‘optically transparent’ inorganic glass matrix nanocomposites material, Otaigbe said.

Dr. Joe Lichtenhan, president and CEO of Hybrid Plastics, said he's excited about the opportunity to work with students from the school on the project.

“I believe it (project) plays into the real strengths of the school, which include initiatives such as this that are applied and relevant. It doesn’t get lost in theory,” he said. “The students can get first-hand experience about what it takes to actually create a product that works versus being motivated by pure scientific discovery.”

Last year, Otaigbe earned a distinguished Tocqueville-Fulbright Distinguished Chair and Professorship at the University of Lyon-1 in Villeurbanne, France, an eight-month appointment that began in January. During that time, he was also elected to the Tocqueville-Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Engineering. 

“Our university, school and its students benefit significantly through the hard work and dedication of Professor Otaigbe as a global leader in his field of research,” said. Dr. Jeffrey Wiggins, director of the School. “The recognition he has received is well-deserved and we’re honored to be associated with his success.”

For more information about Otaigbe and the Southern Miss School of Polymers and High Performance Materials, visit www.usm.edu/polymer.