Beckman Young Investigator

Frank Leibfarth, an assistant professor in our departmentof chemistry in the College of Arts & Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill, has been named a Beckman Young Investigator by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.

The award, $600,000 in funding over four years, supports the nation's most promising young faculty members in the early stages of their academic careers in the chemical and life sciences, particularly to encourage work that opens up new avenues of research.

Leibfarth and another UNC-Chapel Hill winner, Wesley Legant in the UNC School of Medicine, were among 10 winners to receive the prestigious honor. They were selected from a pool of over 300 applicants by a panel of scientific experts.

"It is a pleasure, on behalf of all of my colleagues in the department, to congratulate Frank on this prestigious and competitive award. It is an excellent recognition of the work he and his talented team continue to do as next generation leaders in the chemical sciences," commented Distinguished Professor Jeffrey Johnson, Chair of the Department of Chemistry.

The Leibfarth Research Group

The Leibfarth Research Group

"Our new 2019 awardees are tackling a broad range of challenges, from production of sustainable plastics and batteries to new rapid genetic screening techniques for cancer therapies to modeling of magnetic quantum materials, among others," said Anne Hultgren, executive director of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.

The Beckman Young Investigator Award will fund work in Leibfarth's group focused on developing the next-generation of sustainable plastics. The majority of current plastics are derived from petrochemical resources and persist in the environment long after their useful lifetime. While these materials would ideally be replaced by plastics that are both derived from renewable resources and degrade into environmentally benign byproducts, the majority of current sustainable alternatives do not have the properties to compete with petroleum-derived materials.

Leibfarth seeks to develop a new approach toward the production of sustainable plastics with the potential to dramatically enhance their mechanical properties. His group has recently discovered a new concept that controls the stereochemistry, or the spatial arrangement of plastic building blocks during their production. This approach transforms these materials from viscous liquids into advanced materials that have potential utility as low-cost adhesives, coatings and biomedical devices. Translating this concept to building blocks that are derived from biorenewable substrates such as corn, mint and tree will yield next-generation plastics with a significantly smaller environmental footprint. Additionally, the production of these high-value materials from renewable building blocks will result in plastics that are considerably easier to degrade either chemically or in the environment.

The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation supports researchers and nonprofit research institutions in making the next generation of breakthroughs in chemistry and the life sciences.