August 20, 2020
By Alice Zhao
Aaron Teator, a postdoctoral associate in the Leibfarth Group, is a recipient of the 2020 Cottrell Fellowship. The prestigious fellowship includes $75,000 for a 12-month period salary, benefits, and research-related expenses for the 2020-2021 academic year and 2021 summer.
“I am incredibly honored to have been selected for a Cottrell Fellowship from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA). I’m very thankful to both RCSA and NSF for offering such a timely initiative and supporting the work of postdocs during such uncertain times.
I’m also very excited! The Cottrell Fellowship not only funds my research but also, in combination with the excellent teachers in the Chemistry Department, provides invaluable teaching mentorship and an opportunity to practice contemporary pedagogical techniques in the classroom,” said Teator.
The award applications are prepared by eligible postdoctoral fellows and entered in the online submission system by the Cottrell Scholar sponsor. Teator was nominated by 2020 Cottrell Scholar and assistant professor of chemsitry, Frank Leibfarth.
“Aaron is a one-of-a-kind scientist: one who is fearless approaching problems, unwavering when encountering challenges, and adept at communicating the value of his work. The Leibfarth group has been lucky to have Aaron as a positive role model to exemplify what it means to be a great scientist and colleague,” said Leibfarth.
Teator’s educational background includes a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Nevada, Reno, and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. He first discovered his interest to pursue a career in chemistry during his undergraduate studies.
“It wasn’t until taking a Polymer Chemistry course with Prof. Ben King at UNR, and subsequently joining his research lab, that I really developed a desire to continue on in chemistry.
Ultimately, it was research – being able to explore new ideas and finding exciting new ways to tackle challenges in chemistry was what made me want to attend graduate school and pursue a postdoctoral position,” said Teator.
Teator joined the Leibfarth lab in 2017. The research group seeks to develop new methods for the synthesis of functional polymers with the goal of discovering and studying their emergent macromolecular behavior.
“Decades of research have been directed at improving the ability of nonpolar polymers (plastics) to interface with polar materials, such as glass, but such improvements typically come at the expense of desirable mechanical properties. We designed a new method to polymerize polar monomers that allows us to decouple polarity from mechanical properties, and results in strong, polar plastics. We have since expanded this methodology to generate materials with tunable thermal properties via copolymerization and continue our work elucidating design principles to further improve this system. Our materials exhibit the strength and toughness of commercial plastics, but are able to adhere to glass over ten times stronger due to their innate polarity.
One potential application we envision for these materials is lightweight, high-strength composites. The polypropylene-glass composite that is commonly found in car bumpers doesn’t have the strength or toughness that would be required for more demanding applications (e.g., structural automobile applications, aerospace, etc.). We hypothesize that our materials will be higher performing in this area than polyolefins and are ~30% lighter than epoxy-composites (the current state-of-the-art in high performance composites),” said Teator.
In addition to funding research, the award provides opportunities for professional development.
“This award helps enable our continued exploration of the broader concept of asymmetric ion-pairing catalysis in polymer synthesis. There are a number of other ideas we have that I will be in the lab working on, but what is really exciting about this fellowship, is the professional development opportunities.
As part of the award, and with the support of excellent departmental mentors, I will be teaching a course in the spring semester that will enable me to apply what I have learned as well as continue developing the teaching skills required for success at the next level,” said Teator.
Following the completion of his postdoctoral position, Teator plans to pursue an independent academic career.
“I would like to build an innovative and interdisciplinary research program that centers on the intersection between synthetic organic chemistry and polymer synthesis that will generate impactful research and produce exceptional scientists. I look forward to providing an inclusive, empowering, and interdisciplinary environment to ensure the success of students at any stage of their academic careers.”