New institute directors are eager to tackle large, interdisciplinary challenges
February 17, 2020
The Macromolecules Innovation Institute (MII), an interdisciplinary science and engineering research center focused on polymeric materials, recently transitioned to new leadership.
Professor Christopher Williams in the Department of Mechanical Engineering has been named the interim director of MII, while Associate Professor Abby Whittington, who holds joint appointments in the departments of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering, will serve as the director of the interdisciplinary macromolecular science and engineering (MACR) Ph.D. program.
Christopher Williams – Interim Director, MII
Williams, a John R. Jones III Faculty Fellow, has served as the associate director of MII for the past five years. He succeeds Timothy Long, professor in the Department of Chemistry, whose five-year term as director of MII concluded in November.
"It is a huge honor to have the opportunity to serve as interim director," Williams said. "There is a long history of excellent leadership of this large, interdisciplinary organization. In my opinion, MII represents Virginia Tech's defining strength, which is the ability to gather faculty and students across disciplinary lines to explore and define new fields of research."
Virginia Tech has an extensive history of polymer research from predecessor organizations of MII dating back to the 1970s. Williams is now tasked with leading a group of more than 60 affiliated faculty, 43 students in the MACR program, and many more MII-affiliated students. MII supports interdisciplinary collaborations between faculty and regularly holds an annual technical conference, a research experiences for undergraduates summer program, and industrial short courses.
Williams will serve as interim director until August, when an open search will be conducted for the next permanent director. In the meantime, Williams hopes to continue working on pulling faculty together to tackle big challenges.
"There's a huge opportunity for our faculty to tackle the challenges and exciting scientific opportunities in addressing the challenges of polymer waste streams, which can include synthetic and processing techniques for establishing polymer upcycling and ultimately circular economies," Williams said. "These are things that MII is well situated to address, and it also ties into the Ut Prosim motto at Virginia Tech."
In addition to teaching and leadership roles, Williams is an active researcher with his Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems Lab, which is focused on expanding the capability of additive manufacturing (3-D printing) through discoveries in processes and advanced materials.
Williams earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech in 2007 and joined the faculty at Virginia Tech in 2008. He earned a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2013 to research additive manufacturing of copper cellular materials. Last year, he received the Alumni Award for Excellence in Graduating Advising from the Office of the Provost and the Dean’s Award for Research Excellence from the College of Engineering.
Abby Whittington – Director, MACR Program
Whittington succeeds Robert Moore, professor in the Department of Chemistry, as the director of the MACR program.
MACR (pronounced 'macro') is administered through MII and is one of the Graduate School's 14 Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Programs. MACR is one of the oldest interdisciplinary graduate programs at Virginia Tech with its formation in 2001.
"It's exciting and a wonderful challenge to keep this program at the high level of regard and prestige that it has earned," said Whittington, who also helped start the Regenerative Medicine IGEP.
Whittington majored in textile chemistry at Auburn University before earning her Ph.D. in materials engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She completed postdoc work at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Maryland through a National Academy of Sciences fellowship before joining the Virginia Tech faculty in 2008.
Whittington's own research covers such topics as drug delivery, medical devices, and tissue engineering with a focus on polymer processing issues.
"Virginia Tech is dedicated to working across disciplines, and that is unique to Virginia Tech," Whittington said. "Because of that collaborative nature, this allows us to look at the really big problems. If a student is interested in addressing really big problems — cancer, water purification, bio-based or alternative energy sources — these are things we have access to at Virginia Tech and in the MACR program."
The MACR program is dedicated to training the next generation of scientists and engineers through an interdisciplinary and team approach to learning and research. The MACR program also boasts a 100 percent job placement rate and strong relationships with industry.