Engineering assistant professor receives prestigious research grant

April 25, 2012 | Research, UToday
By Paul Webb

Dr. Yakov Lapitsky reloaded an isothermal titration calorimeter to characterize the molecular interactions of polyelectrolytes.

A University of Toledo researcher has been awarded a grant to explore a new way to utilize light.

Dr. Yakov Lapitsky, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, received one of the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious grants, the Career Award, to use light to control electrostatic interactions to form soft materials with intricate structures.

In addition to his investigation of the photo-directed assembly method, Lapitsky will develop guidelines for the process and research the best uses of the method.

“These materials form through electrostatic interactions by mixing positive and negative charges. The molecules come together to form a solid complex, and we can direct their formation with the use of light,” Lapitsky said. “The goal is to develop strategies for microfabrication. This can be used to make customized vehicles for smart drug delivery or used to make sensors and actuators for soft micro-machines.”

To do this work, Lapitsky received a National Science Foundation Career Award of nearly $402,000 over five years.

“This project has three objectives. First, we will investigate photo-directed assembly of polyelectrolytes as a method for preparing intricate supramolecular structures. We also will dissect the photo-directed assembly process with the view of developing guidelines for controlling materials structure and stimulus sensitivity. Lastly, we will exploit the stimulus-responsive properties of photo-patterned polyelectrolyte complexes to prepare micron-scale controlled release devices, actuators and materials that self-destruct,” Lapitsky said.

Dr. Glenn Lipscomb, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, said Lapitsky’s work is great for the college’s programs.

“Dr. Lapitsky’s receipt of this award recognizes what we have known since he was hired two years ago — his tremendous creativity in solving the grand challenges facing society in health care and sustainability, as well as his proven ability to mentor students and reach out to the community as a whole,” Lipscomb said. “As one of a number of Career Award recipients in the College of Engineering, this reflects highly on the quality of the college’s research and educational programs and the ability to attract the highest caliber faculty.”

Lapitsky’s research also will be integrated with educational outreach. Along with sponsoring undergraduate and graduate research in the field, he will introduce high school students to these methods through the Engineer for a Day and Toledo Excel programs that are offered to Toledo Public Schools.

“The National Science Foundation’s mission is to support scientific research and education,” Lapitsky said. “I am happy to have the opportunity to share our work with young people who are interested in science.”

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