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Vol. 30 No. 5
September-October 2008

Creativity in Applied Polymer Science

by Dick Jones

Rarely do applied scientists pursuing research within industry and confined by the requirements of patenting and commercial interest before publication receive wide recognition from the scientific community. For that reason, Polymer International has instituted the Polymer International–IUPAC Prize, an award for excellence in creativity and industrial application in polymer science, open only to scientists under the age of 40 <www.iupac.org/news/archives/2007/PolymerInt-award.html>.

Zhenan Bao delivers the Award Winning Lecture at MACRO 2008 on 4 July 2008 at the Taipei Convention Center, Taiwan.

The award is to be presented every two years at the IUPAC World Polymer Congress, where the winner will present a lecture about his or her work. In addition to a cash prize, all travel and accommodation expenses incurred in attending the Congress will be covered. This year, following receipt of 24 nominations from all over the world and the deliberation of an international panel of judges representing major nations participating in polymer science, the first award went to Zhenan Bao, a professor of chemical engineering at Stanford University. The award was presented at the Macro 2008 Congress held in Taipei at the end of June (see July 2008 CI, p. 19).

Bao is a world leader in the field of organic and polymer electronics. Educated at Nanjing University in China and the University of Chicago in the United States, her first post was as a member of the technical staff of the Polymer and Organic Materials Research Department at Lucent Technologies in New Jersey, where she became a distinguished member of the technical staff. She is now a professor in the Chemical Engineering Department at Stanford University, with more than 100 refereed publications and 30 patents to her name.

Bao pioneered the materials design concepts for high-charge transport polymeric semiconductors and air-stable organic semiconductors capable of being processed using solution techniques. The high-performance materials she designed and realized subsequently led to the first demonstrations of all-printed organic transistors and organic transistor-driven electronic circuitry. Her research group at Stanford has also pioneered several new dielectric material systems that played significant roles in demonstrations of printed circuitry as well as enabling a new type of water-stable sensor: A glass resin dielectric polymer that can be easily processed became the workhorse dielectric material that allowed the demonstration of the first-ever printed electronic paper powered by organic transistors. Another important polymer dielectric system contains a stable cross-linker that allows low-temperature curing. Ultrathin films cast from this new polymer are pinhole-free and behave as high-performance low-power consumption transistors. The low-voltage operation characteristic of transistors made using this new dielectric enabled chemical detection in an aqueous system, presenting possible applications of interest to the military, the health industries, and in environmental monitoring.

A water droplet with a trace amount of trinitrobenzene resides on the surface of an organic transistor. The presence of the analytes in the semiconductor channel results in a disturbance to the charge transport, causing a change in output current. Plastic materials form the basis of new electronic sensors for chemical detection in air or water. See the article by Roberts et al. in PNAS early view online. Image courtesy of Stefan C.B. Mannsfeld, Mark Roberts, and Zhenan Bao, Stanford University.

Recently, Bao’s group at Stanford has developed chemistry for the synthesis of a new type of conjugated polymer containing pentacene. With high mobilities of over 1.0 cm2V-1s-1 and acceptable on–off ratios, the best-performing molecule as the active material in p-type organic transistors is pentacene. Pentacene is subject to rapid degradation in ambient conditions, but by incorporating it into a conjugated polymer, the processability and stability of the material is significantly improved without compromising its charge transport property. Bao has also led the synthesis of the first regioregular pentacene-containing conjugated polymers with 2,9 substitutions on the pentacene. These will have great potential as transistor materials as well as being low bandgap polymers.

A frequent recipient of scholarships, fellowships, and other awards, Bao’s reputation has spread, leading to distinguished lecture invitations and external awards. Her work has been featured in various news media, including CNET, New Scientist, Chemical & Engineering News, NanoWorld News, NanoTech Wire, and Nanowerk News, and in top journals such as Science and Nature. Science noted Bao’s work on large-scale integrated circuits based on organic materials as being among the top 10 research breakthroughs in 2000. That same year she was selected by the U.S. National Academy of Engineering as being among the top 100 young engineers in the world. In 2001 she was a lecturer at the Nobel Laureates in Polymer Chemistry Symposium at the American Chemical Society Polymer Chemistry Division. That same year she was given the American Chemical Society Team Innovation Award, an R&D 100 Award for her work on printed plastic circuits for electronic paper displays, and was R&D Magazine’s Editor’s Choice of the “Best of the Best” new technology for 2001. In 2002 she was selected by the Women Chemists Committee of the American Chemical Society as one of 12 “Outstanding Young Woman Scientists expected to make a substantial impact in chemistry during this century,” and in 2003 she was selected by MIT Technology Review as one of the top 100 young innovators for this century.

Since she hasn’t even hit midcareer, we expect that Zhenan Bao will continue to make a mark on science and technology for years to come. We congratulate her on her achievements to date and wish her the very best in the future.

> Bao's group website: http://baogroup.stanford.edu/

Richard G. Jones <r.g.jones@kent.ac.uk> is chair of the Polymer International–IUPAC Prize Adjudication Panel. He is emeritus professor of Polymer Science at the University of Kent in the UK and a long-time member of the IUPAC Polymer Division.


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