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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Academics & Research

UH receives $4 million chemistry research grant

  |  File photo/The Daily Cougar

The new Center of Excellence in Polymer Chemistry, established by a $4 million grant from the Welch Foundation, will give UH the opportunity to make strides in polymer research. | File photo/The Daily Cougar

A collaborative effort between the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, the Division of Research and the Offices of Development, the Provost and the President prompted the Welch Foundation give the University a $4 million grant to establish the Center of Excellence in Polymer Chemistry, sending UH to the head of polymer research.

“It will allow us to be at the forefront of making the next generations of new materials,” said Randall Lee, associate dean of research at the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

The Welch Foundation is based in Houston and is one of the nation’s oldest and largest private funding resources for the advancement of chemistry in Texas.

“Throughout the years, the Welch Foundation has been incredibly generous to the University of Houston,” said Dan E. Wells, interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, in a press release. “We are grateful to receive this grant that will advance our Tier One research and generate a uniquely skilled workforce for Houston and Texas.”

The foundation’s grant will allow UH to ascend to new heights in polymer research.

“A polymer is like a necklace, which is made up of several links. For a polymer, the links are small organic molecules that are connected through chemical bonding to form a chain,” Lee said.

Petrochemicals are a large part of polymers, and UH intends to do polymer research at the new center.

“The molecules that compose the polymer are linked together with chemical bonds — i.e., chemical bonds are the ‘glue’ that holds the molecules together to make the chain. The molecules (which are) linked together to make many useful polymers are derived from oil and natural gas,” said David Hoffman, chairman of the Department of Chemistry.

The Center will focus on changing the way polymers are made, allowing them to be biodegradable — like plastic, for example.

“We would like to partner with local industry; that will be a part of the Center,” Hoffman said. “It will not just be an academic center.”

The Center will be a collaboration between UH and local industries and also an opportunity for students to participate in research, making them leaders and preparing them for future employment in the field.

“Both undergraduate and graduate students will be working in the labs under the direction of the faculty doing the cutting edge research, and they’ll be the ones that are taking the high-paying jobs, too,” Lee said.

With the Welch Foundation’s grant, the University will be able to begin the search for the first staff member in Fall 2014 and hopes to hire the first full round of staff in the next few years.

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