Polymer Mechanics and Other Non-Traditional Academic Pursuits

Event Date: March 31, 2015
Speaker: Prof. James Caruthers
Speaker Affiliation: School of Chemical Engineering
Time: 9:00 - 10:15 am
Location: FRNY G140

Abstract:  An academic career typically has a pathway that focuses on research and teaching, but if one is fortunate opportunities arise that can lead to an unanticipated path.  I have had the good fortune of experiencing both traditional and unusual career pathways, both of which will be briefly described in this talk.

The traditional research pathway has focused on the chemistry and engineering properties of polymers, with special interest in the thermo-mechanical behavior of polymeric glasses.  Glassy polymers exhibit a diversity of nonlinear relaxation behaviors that have resisted a fundamental description for decades, where the glassy state is considered one of the outstanding problems in condensed matter physics.  Recently Caruthers and his group have developed a new approach that can at least qualitatively unify the diverse thermo-mechanical behavior seen experimentally.  The key idea in this new approach is to include nanoscale, temporal, fluctuations, where this explicit incorporation of fluctuations challenges the basic structure of continuum mechanics.

In addition to the traditional research and teaching activities, Caruthers also leads major activities in (i) P-12 STEM education and (ii) the development of an on-line Chemical Engineering curriculum.  The STEM activities are particularly interesting in that they involve the motorsports industry, including the organization of an international electric go-kart design and race competition each May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as part of the Indy500.  The last part of talk will describe the strange path from academic research to a major motorsports-based STEM education program for college students that is expanding to include both high school and middle school students.