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USM Polymer Professor Collaborates on Transformative Fluorescent Materials Research

Thu, 08/20/2020 - 10:38am | By: Van Arnold

Professor Yoan SimonGroundbreaking research conducted by University of Southern Mississippi polymer science Professor Yoan Simon, in collaboration with scientists from two other institutions, has led to the development of fluorescent solids, thus creating the brightest known materials in existence.

Simon teamed with Drs. Amar Flood and Krishnan Raghavachari, professors of chemistry at Indiana University and Dr. Bo Wegge Laursen, professor of chemistry at the University of Copenhagen, on the transformative project. USM graduate student Brad Davis assisted in the research at Simon’s lab in the School of Polymer Science and Engineering.

Simon points out that his group’s expertise in handling fluorescent molecules in polymers opened the door for the collaborative research.

“In some respect, we were the missing piece of the puzzle,” he said. “Our collaborators had already developed the beautiful chemistry but needed someone who could transfer it broadly into materials. That is where our team came into play.”

The discovery, published in the journal Chem, could have potential applications in everything from solar energy to medical diagnostics and lasers, to perhaps even autonomous cars. While there are more than 100,000 fluorescent dyes that glow when presented in a liquid form, maintaining the brightness of the colors is much trickier in solids.

Simon explains that most commercial fluorescent materials suffer from a phenomenon known as self-quenching, which causes them to lose their properties at high loading, thereby limiting their incorporation into materials.

“For them to work, they need to be far enough apart, basically ‘socially distanced’ but they have the natural tendency to aggregate,” said Simon. “The beauty of this work lies in the development of a universal molecule that allows them to be spaced out, essentially acting like a physical divider. Ultimately, this paves the way for the fabrication of polymeric materials with really high chromophore concentration and extreme brightness.”

Simon’s research highlights the renowned work within USM’s School of Polymer Science and Engineering. The school is home to numerous scientific, educational and outreach programs, institutes, and symposia sponsored by private, industrial and federal agencies.

The research findings have yielded considerable recognition from national and international publications. Simon says his group was eager to meet the molecular engineering challenge.

“I think this shows the ability of the School of Polymer Science and Engineering to shine, pun intended,” he said. “I feel honored that a team of world experts in supramolecular chemistry turned to Southern Miss when it came to incorporating their findings into polymers. It really continues to highlight the legacy of high-profile research that has been the hallmark of this department.”