Donald R. Paul

Sr. Chair in Engineering

The University of Texas at Austin

2015-2016 was my 49th year as a faculty member in this department so I have to summarize this larger time frame where my purpose was to build a research and teaching program in Polymer Science and I am quite proud of achieving that goal.  My full CVshows that I have published over 700 peer-reviewed papers and edited 10 books on important polymer topics.  In round numbers my citations total about 40,000.  I hve been named a distinguished graduate of NC State University and the University of Wisconsin and I have teaching and research awards from UT, AIChE, ACS, and SPE plus being named a Fellow of AIChE, ACS (and by two divisions), SPE and NAMS. I was elected to NAE, and the  Academy of Sciences of Mexico and of Bologna.  I serve on 13 Editorial Advisory Boards and established a new ACS journal and edited it for 7 years.  I  Chaired this department for 8 years, founded TMI and was its Director, I helped establish TAMEST and served as its President in 2006.

For most of my time at UT I have directed the research of graduate student in fundamental areas of gas permeation in polymers and on polymer blends.  This research continues to generate a number of papers, but here I will focus on two newer topics.

In the area of polymer nanocomposites, we have worked on use of clay (or montmorillonite) platelets as the nanofiller; this work was prompted by Southern Clay Products; here we have done close collaboration with SCP, General Motors and DuPont.  A major issue is the exfoliation of the stack of clay platelets which are 1 nm in thickness and quite large in lateral dimensions. We have also worked with carbon nanotubes in concert with a local company, Molecular Rebar.  There have been commercial applications of all our work in this area, especially in vehicles.  Our work has focused on processing such nanocomposites and on the mechanical properties of these materials.  Carbon nanotubes and montmorillonite platelets have very high mechanical stiffness and strength so they can bring great improvements to the mechanical behavior of polymers without the detrimental effects on surface finish and weight as found in typical composites.   A number  of papers describing all this were published.

Some time ago Benny Freeman and I started up a research effort on ion transport in polymer membranes with fixed electrical charges on their chains.  This has exciting possibilities for desalination and producing energy from sea water. A basic issue is knowing about the sorption of ions in these water swollen membranes.  We have developed techniques for measuring this sorption but the most exciting development of the past year has been the ability to accurately predict it. I found some theoretical papers in the polyelectrolyte literature by an electrochemist, G. S. Manning, and I asked our research team to explore this. However, I had a terrible accident that resulted in a brain injury so I was away from campus for nearly 2 years.  When I returned I was extremely pleased that they had taken these concepts and produced a tremendous scheme of prediction and had published 20 or so papers.   This is going to have a major impact on the fields of ion exchange and membranes for desalination.  We have transferred this development to GE Power and Water who is going to implement it into their business