Researcher Advancing Sugar-Based Plastics Wins Career Award
LOWELL, Mass. – A UMass Lowell researcher who is exploring ways to improve plastics made from sugar crops has received the National Science Foundation’s Career Award.
The honor, presented to Margaret Sobkowicz-Kline of Maynard, an assistant professor in UMass Lowell’s Plastics Engineering Department, recognizes the nation’s best young university scholars who effectively integrate their research into their teaching.
The $400,000, five-year grant will help Sobkowicz-Kline and her students study how to make more durable and adaptable plastics from the inedible portion of sugar crops. Uses for such plastics have been limited to date, as the materials are difficult to manufacture. Yet, they hold great promise, according to Sobkowicz-Kline.
“These bioplastics have the potential to reduce the use of conventional plastics derived from fossil fuels,” she said. “By using cutting-edge, energy-saving processing techniques, we can potentially produce superior materials for more demanding applications in the medical-device, textile and packaging fields, as well as new uses for durable goods in the construction and automotive industries.”
Lowell residents Xun Chen, Bin Tan and JeongIn Gug, all graduate students in plastics engineering, are among those working with Sobkowicz-Kline on the project.
“My students and I are interested in the creative role plastics can play in solving critical problems facing our planet today and in developing new, ‘greener’ manufacturing techniques for those materials,” she said.
Much of the team’s work is being conducted at UMass Lowell’s Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center, which is home to cutting-edge research in plastics engineering, as well as nanotechnology, molecular biology and optics, advancing fields such as life sciences, energy, environmental protection and more.
Sobkowicz-Kline will also use the NSF grant to develop educational outreach programs that encourage young women to pursue careers in engineering.
Sobkowicz-Kline, who joined UMass Lowell’s faculty in 2011, is an expert in renewable plastics, nanocomposites and developing environmentally friendly manufacturing techniques. Her research interests also include electroactive plastics, which change shape or size when stimulated by electricity and can be used to help convert solar to electrical energy.