Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2016
Characterization and Control of Molecular Architectures within Thin Fluid Films
“The paint clinging to a wall, the anti-glare coating on eyeglasses, even the cooking oil added to a pot of boiling noodles -- all these have been engineered, in varying degrees, through scientific efforts,” observes Scott K. Shaw, assistant professor ofchemistry at the University of Iowa.
Shaw is working to develop a greater understanding of these diverse phenomena, attributed generally to chemical interfaces, with the practical goal of better prediction and control of their behaviors and properties.
“When properly understood and implemented, surface-induced effects at interfaces can be used in positive ways, such as electronic touch-screens, anti-fouling surfaces, and cleaner energy production,” he said. “However, chemical interfaces that are misunderstood can lead losses in performance, even physical damage that costs businesses and governments a lot of money to repair.”
Shaw and his research associates have chosen to tackle problems of chemical interfaces by intensely examining the behavior of thin fluid films, which they create using an innovative technique called “dynamic wetting.”It allows continuous examination of a film’s properties as it is systematically varied between relatively thick and extremely thin phases.
Judicious selection of specific fluids and substrate pairings allows them to explore and gather data on varying classes and strengths of chemical and physical forces that control interfacial (thin) to bulk (thick) transitions. These forces are the building blocks of new materials and devices.
“Since the emergence of surface science in the early 20th century, enormous effort has been devoted to understanding and controlling the behaviors of molecules near surfaces,” Shaw noted. “These molecules experience additional forces due to the surface’s presence, and as a result their behavior can differ significantly from that of the same molecules located far from the surface. These behavioral changes range from altered molecular orientations and densities to improved tendencies to make or break chemical bonds.”
For the education component of the Cottrell Scholar Award, Shaw plans to enhance University of Iowa science service outreach events in rural areas and small towns. His goals are to recruit additional rural students to the sciences in a rural scholars’ research program, improve the research experiences of undergraduates, and provide mentoring experience for graduate students.