Petar Dvornic

Petar Dvornic

Petar Dvornic is a man on a mission. Dvornic, chairman of the Department of Chemistry, has been given the task of launching the university’s Polymer Chemistry Initiative and it is unlikely a more passionate advocate for the program could be found.

The program, funded by a targeted investment from the Kansas Legislature, puts internationally recognized scientists together with the existing research and laboratory resources of the Department of Chemistry, Kansas Polymer Research Center and the technical expertise and labs in the College of Technology. A new bachelor’s degree program in polymer chemistry began this fall and a similar master’s degree option is in the works.

Without them (polymers) we cannot imagine the civilization of the 20th and 21st century.

Dvornic said PSU’s new polymer chemistry initiative is an academic program that will not only create polymer chemists for high-value jobs in industry, research and government institutions, but also support important research at PSU in one of the fastest growing scientific areas.

Polymer science, Dvornic said, is a relatively new field in an area that is essential to life as we know it.

“With polymers, you can make this table,” Dvornic said, slapping the hard surface for emphasis. “You can make the window. You can make the walls. Polymers taken away from our daily lives would be a catastrophe. Buildings would fall. There would be no cars or airplanes, no clothing, no computers, no food industry, no quality drinking water, no today’s medicine, no nothing as we know it. Without polymers we cannot imagine the civilization of the 20th and 21st century.”

“It is a very young science — not even a century old — but it developed exceptionally quickly,” Dvornic said.

As interest in polymer research grew, internationally recognized post-graduate polymer programs were established at large research institutions. This has led to evolution of new sciences from polymer science, including macromolecular engineering, materials science and nanotechnology, and made it a major contributor to computer development and miniaturization, robotics, bio-medical sciences and up and coming personalized medicine, Dvornic said.

This focus on big post-graduate programs has left a niche that Dvornic said PSU can fill. That niche is a strong bachelor’s degree and master’s degree program in polymer chemistry that will feed the needs of both industry, which is looking for polymer scientists, and also graduate and post-graduate polymer chemistry programs in need of well-prepared students.

Dvornic said Pittsburg State was the logical choice for a polymer chemistry program because of a confluence of factors.

Those factors included the Kansas Polymer Research Center (KPRC), which had internationally recognized scientists, a research tradition and an excellent facility; the Kansas Technology Center with its extensive ability for processing polymers into objects; and a strong Chemistry Department.

Ram Gupta

Ram Gupta

Jeanne Norton

Jeanne Norton

To launch the Polymer Chemistry Initiative, the university hired three very promising young scientists: Ram Krishna Gupta and Santimukul Santra (Chemistry), and Jeanne Norton (Plastics Engineering Technology). They, along with Dvornic, who holds a Ph.D. in polymer science and engineering from the University of Massachusetts; and Charles (Jody) Neef, an organic chemistry professor with research interests in polymer chemistry, form the core faculty for the initiative. Others across campus may also become involved in the initiative as it grows, Dvornic said.

“It will remain wide open for engagement of other PSU faculty and scientists interested in contributing to polymer education and research, particularly from the departments of chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics and the KPRC,” Dvornic said.

Karl Kunkel, dean of PSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, praised the Kansas Board of Regents, the Kansas Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback for supporting an initiative that has the potential to make PSU a center for excellence in polymer science education, research and economic development.

“Our linking three solid areas of the university — the Kansas Polymer Research Center, the Plastics Engineering Program in the College of Technology, and the Chemistry Department in the College of Arts and Sciences — into a larger initiative creates synergy with significant impact,” Kunkel said. “It is unique in Kansas, the region, and the United States, and will tremendously benefit undergraduate and graduate students as well as industry in this fast developing and important scientific and production field. Over the past two years we’ve assembled a world-class faculty and created outstanding laboratories for teaching and research. I’m excited to see what the future holds for our polymer chemistry initiative.” •