Higher Education and Professional Development

All MONET students receive interdisciplinary scientific training though collaborative research and join mentorship, as well as professional development training in communication, innovation and entrepreneurship, and scientific leadership. Beyond this core training, a signature feature of MONET’s training opportunities is the signature professional development experience (SPDE, pronounced “speedie”). SPDEs are personalized deep-dives that trainees take into an activity that is aligned with one of the Center’s broader impact objectives. Examples of the many SPDEs completed by our trainees include:

The BigSMILES emoticon

The BigSMILES spin-off. In 2020, we successfully spun off our initial polymer data science efforts (BigSMILES and PolyDAT) into the Community Resource for Informatic Polymer Technology (CRIPT), a partnership between MIT, Citrine Informatics, Dow Chemical, and NIST.  In CRIPT, MONET tools are being developed into a community database for polymer science through an NSF Phase I Convergence Accelerator project. The partnership was coordinated in his SPDE by MONET trainee Tzyy-Shyang Lin, who led BigSMILES as an open-source project to promote widespread sharing of our standards, for the purpose of growing a large community of users. The broad impact of BigSMILES in industry and the academic community (beyond polymer networks) is illustrated by the cohort of major chemical companies (Dow, BASF, and Braskem America) and NSF- and DOE-supported polymer research centers (BioPACIFIC at UCSB, CSP at UMN, and Delaware’s Center for Plastics Innovation) that are participating in prototype testing and evaluation in view of a launch at the end of the second quarter 2021.

Art of Polymers performance elements

Art of Polymers (AoP).  We collaborate with the Multiverse Concert Series to produce Art of Polymers, an interactive public performance of MONET-inspired music and short scientific talks, followed by audience Q&A. In her SPDE, Patricia Johnson produced content and spoke in AoP, and collaborated with composer Scott Barton to translate concepts of polymer chemistry in general, and MONET research in particular, into sound. The concert plays with concepts of repeated motifs, unbroken chains, ring-opening, and transformation of one molecule into another. Mechanochromic polymers were incorporated into robotic instruments used in the performance, and a 3D-printed, functional polymer cello connects the enabling power of polymer chemistry to artistic creativity. COVID forced us to move a live Fall 2020 concert to an online 2021 debut that was attended by more than 300 audience members worldwide!

Opportunity and equity in the pandemic. With in-person outreach activities canceled or postponed, in August, 2020, Zi Wang noted the lack of undergraduate research opportunities created by lab occupancy restrictions. He quickly partnered with fellow MONET trainees at Duke and MIT to create a research opportunity for six of the many undergraduates shut out of anticipated lab experiences. Mentees were recruited and identified using an equitable application and review portal, and they worked in off-hours undergraduate teaching lab space to show that silyl ethers used in MONET projects are mechanically weak, despite the high bond dissociation energy of the Si-O bond. A student-only publication (no faculty co-authors) is in preparation.