From American Chemical Society
Schenectady chemist wins national award for new materials
Chemist Daniel Brunelle of Burnt Hills, N.J., will be honored April 3 by the world's largest scientific society for his diverse contributions in developing tailor made, efficient polymers such as thermoplastics to replace steel frames in motor vehicles. He will receive the 2001 Award in Applied Polymer Science from the American Chemical Society at its 221st national meeting in San Diego.
"Basically what I do is design new polymers and new ways to make them more efficiently," said Brunelle, who is a staff scientist and Coolidge Fellow at GE Corporate Research and Development.
Out of one such project came a plastic to replace metal parts on cars - not the body panels but the very frame, he said. The new composite, a form of polymer called engineering thermoplastic, is as stiff as steel but weighs over 60 percent less. Brunelle's team developed the plastic from starting materials called cyclic oligomers.
"The advantage of using cyclic oligomers is that their viscosity is very low, so they pour easily into a mold of fiberglass fibers, for example," Brunelle explained. "One reason to take this approach is for the weight savings. But the other is that it's much, much easier to mold screw holes right into the frame, for example, rather than have to weld bolts later."
The cyclic oligomers "are like 'Spaghettios,' in that they're shaped like circles, move around but don't get tangled up," he said. "That's in contrast to pasta - conventional polymers - which are long strings that get tangled up," and are thus more difficult to manipulate.
Brunelle said GE has sold patent rights to a corporation that plans to market golf clubs, bicycle frames and other sport products made of the thermoplastic. Eventually the company plans to scale up to build automobile frames.
When asked what sparked his interest in chemistry, Brunelle said, "My dad was always the guy who took things apart to find out how they worked or to fix them. So I did too. And later, when I was in high school, I got to work in an organic chemistry lab at the University of Miami. That really did it for me."
Brunelle received his undergraduate degree from Emory University in 1970 and his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1974. He is a member of the ACS organic and polymer divisions.