Chemist Brad Chamberlain receives $100,000 research grant

Friday, February 27, 2009

To do research with four students on new class of plant-based plastics

Brad Chamberlain, associate professor of chemistry at Luther College, has received a $100,000 award from the Grow Iowa Values Fund. The two-year award will fund a project titled "A New Class of Plant-Based Plastics Derived from Soybean and Corn Oil" with research focused on the synthesis of plastics derived from soybean oil. Chamberlain, one of a group of recognized polymer scientists in the state of Iowa conducting research, understands the benefits of developing biodegradable polymers derived from renewable resources. Biodegradable polymers offer sustainable and environmentally responsible solutions for meeting the demands of society and industry for thermoplastic materials, and the bioplastics directly affect Iowa's economy.

Luther students involved in the project include juniors Michael Pettengill and Brad Foresman, sophomores Julia Schiefelbein and Michael Sinnwell, and senior Amy Ekland. Research on the "New Class of Plant-Based Plastics" project will begin this semester and continue through out the 2009-10 academic year.

"Iowa is increasing its investment in green technologies, including biotechnology and alternative energy sources," Chamberlain said. "If the materials emerging from this research can take a foothold in markets, it will, among other things, increase incentives to establish commercial manufacturing plants here in the state of Iowa, which would create more job opportunities."

According to Chamberlain, his "New Class of Plant-Based Plastics" project is one of several projects by researchers across the state of focusing on agriculturally based commodity materials for biomedical and engineering applications.

Chamberlain, who has studied plastics derived from cornstarch for much of his scientific career, is focusing his research in a new direction with plastics from soybean oil with the support of the GIVF grant.

While many universities and research facilities across the country are working on the development of green technology, Iowa continues to be a national leader in research and development of green technologies that have practical application to business and enterprises. The Grow Iowa Values Fund was implemented in 2003 to offer financial incentives to companies that plan to create new jobs in Iowa, allocating $50 million among prospective firms.

"The proposed work hopefully will help strengthen the markets for feedstocks produced by Iowa's agricultural industries," Chamberlain said, noting the research fulfills the Grow Iowa Values Fund requirement for awarded projects to have commercialization distinction potential.

But beyond immediate commercial applications within the state, Chamberlain believes the greatest potential benefit of the project is the education, training and motivation it provides the Luther undergraduate research students conducting the research with him.

"One of the primary goals of my scholarly activities is to build and inspire the next generation of scientists," Chamberlain said. Specifically, this projects research will train a set of environmentally-conscious scientists with an eye to solving pressing, real-world problems with resources found close to home."

The latest $100,000 award is the third time Luther faculty members have received funding for research from the Grow Iowa Values Fund. Chamberlain and Eric Baack, professor of biology, each previously received funding for their individual research proposals.

Chamberlain was also recently awarded a grant from the Iowa Office of Energy Independence through the Iowa Power Fund for a one-year collaborative project with the University of Northern Iowa titled "The Development of New Photosensitizers for Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells." Research for that project will begin in June 2009.