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Polymer researcher receives NSF grant for multifunctional tough hydrogels

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Dr. Jie Zheng, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at The University of Akron, has recently been awarded his fourth grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF grants fund research and education in the areas of science and engineering, and Zheng will use his grant to pursue research on multifunctional tough hydrogels.

With this continuing grant of $121,979, Zheng will have received a total of $343,616 to design a new class of tough double-network hydrogels, which can be used for a wide range of biomedical and industrial applications including wastewater treatment, tissue engineering, drug delivery, and the food industry. While most of hydrogels are limited to their functionality, the Zheng team has designed and integrated the two opposite properties of mechanical toughness and self-healing properties, making their hydrogels unique. The Zheng team on this project consists of graduate students Hong Chen, Mingzhen Zhang, Fengyu Yang, Qiang Chen, and research associate Jie Ma. They will start their project on July 1, 2016.

The Zheng team at UA was the first to demonstrate an innovative one-step synthesis strategy to create these new hybrid hydrogels with two contrasting networks. Zheng has been conducting research on these hydrogels since 2013.

"Though the opportunities of this emerging field are challenging, we are very excited that NSF funded this project after two years of hard and productive work. New synthesis methods, new gel systems, and new functionalities are also fundamental to polymer science and engineering," Zheng stated.

Zheng's high-impact research on tough hydrogels has been published in numerous prestigious science journals, including Advanced Functional Materials 25: 1598 (2015), J. Materials Chemistry B, 3: 3654 (2015), and Advanced Materials, 25: 4171 (2013), and has twice been highlighted on journal covers.

Zheng's other awards from the NSF include three grants – one of them an NSF CAREER Award – for his study of amyloid peptides that are associated with Alzheimer's and type II diabetes. He has three active grants from the NSF and from Alzheimer's Association that support his study of functional polymer- and peptide-based materials.

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Lisa Craig
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