My approach to teaching is to present topics in a logical and organized fashion while connecting them to real-world applications, making the content more relevant and relatable. As new technologies have become available and widespread, I have sought to incorporate them into my teaching. (Check out this trailer I made for one of my courses, which provides a sense of how to understand and mathematically describe processes students see around them every day.)
As an instructor, I work hard to establish trusting and productive relationships with students and establish an environment where students feel comfortable and supported both in and out of the classroom.
There is much overlap between my research interests and courses I teach. I regularly teach an introductory materials science course and an elective in polymers. In both courses, students learn the fundamentals of materials and see many different applications of them. I enjoy sharing videos and demonstrations, and especially sharing my research with students. Materials touch every aspect of our lives, and designing smarter, safer, and more sustainable materials is exciting to me.
Biopolymers such as DNA and proteins form the basis of life, and synthetic polymers make modern living possible, ranging from automobile and aerospace travel to clothing, packaging, and pharmaceuticals. Designing smarter, safer, and more sustainable polymers is exciting to me because it has the potential to improve our lives. I think students are fascinated by how you can engineer the polymer structure at the molecular level to create materials that can display a range of properties for use in widespread applications. I love sharing this excitement with students at my alma mater.
My area of expertise is in developing and testing new materials that are inspired by nature. I build materials at the molecular level by incorporating building blocks that enable the materials to respond to changes in their environment, and offer improved material lifespan and sustainability. For example, the healing of skin after a cut motivates the design of self-healing materials that respond constructively to force. The materials I have developed and continue to advance include ‘smart’ materials that respond to environmental cues such as temperature, carbon dioxide, and force. I test the materials’ properties, such as stiffness and strength. I was awarded a new investigator grant from the American Chemical Society and, most recently, a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to further my work in this area.
In a similar vein, another aspect of my work focuses on synthesizing plastics using building blocks found in nature to promote sustainable alternatives to fossil oil-derived plastics. These materials are made from building blocks sourced from nature, such as tree bark and plant oils, and are tested and tuned to match the properties of commodity plastics. I work with collaborators within and outside Lafayette to refine and further study these materials in a project also funded by the NSF. I enjoy mentoring students on honors theses, where I work closely with them to advance these projects together.
I chose Lafayette because of its reputation for combining liberal arts and engineering. Lafayette is one of only a select-few institutions with a well-established chemical engineering department focused solely on the undergraduate experience. It’s a thrill for me to be on the faculty and share with students the same excitement of learning and discovery that I experienced. Since I went here for college, I actually chose Lafayette twice!
As outreach coordinator for the Chemical Engineering Department, I have co-led high school outreach events, which included an introduction to chemical engineering laboratory experience. I have talked with fourth graders about my experiences in STEM as part of their “Outsiders in STEM” unit.