Leading Scientist to Head USC’s Polymer Nanocomposite Research Center

January 22, 2008

COLUMBIA, SC – January 22, 2008 – A scientist renowned for his work in polymer nanocomposites and fuel-cell research will join the University of South Carolina to lead the university’s Center of Economic Excellence (CoEE) for Polymer Nanocomposite Research.

Dr. Brian Benicewicz will serve as a CoEE Endowed Chair and oversee research focused on developing improved materials for the polymers market.

The CoEE Program, also known as the “Endowed Chairs” program, was created to attract top scientists in key research areas to help advance South Carolina’s economy.

South Carolina is one of the nation’s top producers of plastics, specifically commodity polymers that are used to manufacture packaging products for items such as juices, water, soft drinks, household cleaners, and cosmetics. The Polymer Nanocomposite Research CoEE is aiming to transform the plastics industry and thus have a major impact on the state’s manufacturing economy.

USC and plastics manufacturers have been working since 2002 to study the competitive advantage that nanoscience may offer in developing new plastics products or improving those that already exist.

Several projects under investigation at the Polymer Nanocomposite CoEE have garnered external support. One is an effort to evaluate and improve the gas barrier properties of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) as embodied in a patent portfolio donated to USC by Eastman Chemical Company. The CoEE has also received a grant of $901,000 from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory to construct and evaluate polymer nanocomposite structures for application in high-energy storage devices.

My research is focused in two major areas that overlap with key research directions of the university: polymer nanocomposites and new polymers for fuel-cell membranes,” said Benicewicz. “The opportunity to work with other top researchers in these areas at South Carolina is very exciting and will push our research in new directions.

“One of the chief strengths of the CoEE Program is that it builds our state’s economy with a focus on the needs of modern industry for groundbreaking technology with vast potential for commercialization, said Paula Harper Bethea, chair of the CoEE Review Board. The work by Dr. Benicewicz and the Polymer Nanocomposite Research CoEE will raise the profile of South Carolina’s already-strong plastics sector, and it also has relevance to the global quest to develop sources of fuel that are both efficient and practical.”

Benicewicz’s research funding includes grants from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, and private industry. He most recently served as director of the New York State Center for Polymer Synthesis and professor of chemistry at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. He has held positions as a research scientist at Celanese Research Company, as senior scientist at Johnson & Johnson, and as a section leader and deputy group leader at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He has a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry from the University of Connecticut and a bachelor’s degree from the Florida Institute of Technology.

About the CoEE Program

The S.C. Centers of Economic Excellence Program was established by the South Carolina General Assembly in 2002, with $200 million appropriated from the South Carolina Education Lottery Account to fund the program through 2010. The legislation authorizes the state’s three public research institutions (MUSC, Clemson, and USC) to use state funds to create Centers of Economic Excellence in research areas that will advance South Carolina’s economy. Each Center of Economic Excellence is awarded $2 million to $5 million in state funds, which must be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis with non-state funds. The program also supports CoEE endowed chairs, world-renowned scientists who lead the Centers of Economic Excellence. By investing in talent and technology, the CoEE Program is designed to fuel the state’s knowledge-based economy, resulting in high-paying jobs and an improved standard of living in South Carolina.


For more information on the CoEE Program, visit www.sccoee.org .