Organic Chemistry Seminar: Professor Frank Leibfarth, UNC Chapel Hill (Hosts: Yan Xia & Bob Waymouth)
About the Seminar
"Modern Approaches to Functional and Sustainable Thermoplastics"
Plastics are the largest synthetic consumer product in the world, with an annual production of over 360 million metric tons annually. Despite the structural diversity enabled by modern advances in polymer synthesis, greater than 60% of world plastic production remains dominated by polyolefins. These high-volume, low-cost engineering thermoplastics are made from a small sub-set of petroleum derived monomers and demonstrate diverse thermomechanical properties, attractive chemical resistance, and excellent processability. Creating sustainable materials that compete with the performance and value proposition of polyolefins is a grand challenge for the field of polymer science. The goal of research in the Leibfarth group is to develop synthetic methods that transform readily available starting materials into functional and sustainable thermoplastics with molecular-level precision. This goal informs our two complementary approaches that seek to 1) leverage chemo- and regioselective C–H functionalization of polyolefins to enhance the properties of these venerable materials and 2) develop stereoselective polymerization methods that engender emergent polymer properties from simple chemical building blocks. These concepts have resulted in platform synthetic methods that enhance the thermomechanical, adhesion, and transport properties of polyolefins while also uncovering mechanistic insights that broadly inform synthetic method development.
About the Speaker
Frank Leibfarth attended the University of South Dakota, where he was a Goldwater Scholar and graduated in 2008 with degrees in Chemistry and Physics. In that same year, he began a Ph.D. program in chemistry at the University of California Santa Barbara under the direction of Professor Craig J. Hawker. In 2013, Frank received the NSF Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability fellowship to pursue his postdoctoral studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the direction of Professor Timothy F. Jamison. He began his independent career in 2016 at the University of North Carolina, where he is an assistant professor in the Chemistry Department. The overarching goal of the Leibfarth group is to discover new functional materials, understand their structure–property relationships, and ultimately provide tools for chemists, biologists, and engineers to harness the vast potential of synthetic macromolecules. Professor Leibfarth has received the NSF CAREER Award, Sloan Research Fellowship, Cottrell Scholar Award, Camille Dreyfus Teacher–Scholar Award, Beckman Young Investigator Award, Herman Mark Young Scholar Award, and the Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.
Photo courstesy of Lars Sahl (UNC).