For more than three decades, Virginia Tech scientists and engineers have excelled in polymer science and engineering. Today, the collaboration is culminating into the formation of the Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute (MII).

Richard Turner, a research fellow with Eastman Chemical Company's Polymer Technology Division, will be joining Virginia Tech as director of MII in January 2005. Until then, Jack Lesko of engineering science and mechanics and Tim Long of chemistry will serve as interim co-directors.

Turner who holds 85 patents is a graduate of Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, Tenn., where he received both his bachelor's and master's. He earned his Ph.D. in organic polymer chemistry from the University of Florida, Gainesville, in 1971, followed by postdoctoral work in polymer chemistry in Darmstadt, Germany. He worked in the research laboratories of Xerox Corporation and Exxon Mobil Corporation before joining the research laboratories of Eastman Kodak Company in 1982. He joined Eastman Chemical Company in 1993.

MII represents the convergence of three centers, an institute and a graduate degree program. MII consists of about 20 faculty members who are heavily involved in polymer, adhesion, and composite research along with more than 30 additional faculty members, involved in peripheral ways.

Dave Dillard, professor of engineering science and mechanics and the outgoing director of the Center for Adhesive and Sealant Science (CASS), working with interested faculty members and administrators, spearheaded the efforts to merge the related areas under one university organization. "I wanted to take away the boundaries. Most of the faculty belonged to all five entities, and it was confusing where one organization stopped and another started," Dillard said.

"MII will serve as a research engine. Building on our strengths and common interests, this organization will develop a program that can maintain and improve our national ranking from our current fifth place position in the last polymer materials survey done by U.S. News and World Report, positioning us for new funding opportunities in growth areas relevant to our expertise," Dillard said.

The three centers converging into the MII are: the Polymer Materials and Interfaces Laboratory (PMIL) created in 1978 by Garth Wilkes of chemical engineering and James McGrath of chemistry; CASS started in 1982 by Hal Brinson, who was an engineering science and mechanics faculty member; and the Center for Composite Materials and Structures (CCMS), founded in 1982 by Ken Reifsnider, emeritus engineering science and mechanics faculty member and National Academy of Engineering (NAE) member. The institute is the Materials Research Institute, also initiated by McGrath with Research Division sponsorship in 1987.

Macromolecular Science and Engineering, an interdisciplinary graduate degree program approved by the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia in 2001 and directed by Judy Riffle of the chemistry department (although formally reporting to the graduate school dean), also will contribute to the MII effort. This program has grown from zero to 37 Ph.D. students and three master's students for fall 2004.

Research in the areas of macromolecules, interfaces, adhesion, and composites currently accounts for approximately $8.5 million in annual research expenditures at Virginia Tech. The combined program is expected to attract greater attention from potential government and industrial sponsors as well as prospective students and faculty members, paving the way for significant growth in research activities. The MII will continue to build on a strong focus on education and outreach.

"MII will provide us with the opportunity to rebuild our faculty through hiring junior and senior level professors," Dillard said. Several key personnel in this research area, including Reifsnider, James Wightman, and Wilkes, have retired recently, and MII is looking to the university to fill these positions through appropriate cluster hires or other mechanisms.

"MII is well-positioned to be a leader in contemporary advanced materials growth themes of importance to the Commonwealth," McGrath, a member of the NAE since 1994 and a University Distinguished Professor, said. These include: advanced materials for fuel cell energy systems; high performance adhesives and composites; novel biomaterials; and unique nanostructured materials and novel thin films.

Part of MII's objective is to enhance economic opportunities within the region and the state, through spin-off ventures, interactions with the Advanced and Applied Polymer Processing Institute in Danville, and other initiatives. Current research includes contracts with companies such as 3M, Avery Dennison, Battelle, Boeing, Daimler-Chrysler, Dow, DuPont. Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Johnson and Johnson, Luna, and NanoSonic.

Past major government contracts include: two National Science Foundation (NSF) Integrated Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT) grants directed by Riffle, Lesko, Long, and Susan Duncan of the food science and technology department; a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant directed by Long; an NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) directed by Tom Ward of chemistry; a Defense Army Research Projects Agency (DARPA) / Army Research Office (ARO) project; and an NSF Partnership for Innovation grant, co-directed by University Provost Mark McNamee and McGrath. McGrath also directed the first NSF Science and Technology Center at Virginia Tech from 1989 until 2000. It focused on high performance polymeric adhesives and composite materials, and resulted in 120 graduate degrees in science and engineering.

MII faculty will include members of the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Business, Engineering, Natural Resources, Science, and Veterinary Medicine.

The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college's 5,600 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a "hands-on, minds-on" approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 2,000 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology.

Founded in 1872 as a land-grant college, Virginia Tech has grown to become among the largest universities in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Today, Virginia Tech's eight colleges are dedicated to putting knowledge to work through teaching, research, and outreach activities and to fulfilling its vision to be among the top 30 research universities in the nation. At its 2,600-acre main campus located in Blacksburg and other campus centers in Northern Virginia, Southwest Virginia, Hampton Roads, Richmond, and Roanoke, Virginia Tech enrolls more than 28,000 full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries in 180 academic degree programs.