Hi, I am Alisyn Nedoma, a chemical engineer specializing in polymer physics. I was born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, where I attended the University of Florida for my B. S. in chemical engineering. My first research experience was in the laboratory of the inimitable Prof. Anuj Chauhan. There, I used high speed photography to record the impact of microemulsions on patterned surfaces, and later to visualize the Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities resulting from a jet of dyed water impinging upon quiescent water. During my senior year, I took advantage of the Integrated Product and Process Design class (IPPD) to work on an industry-sponsored project. Myself and a team of my peers worked with Solutia to increase the throughput of quality control sampling for nylon fibers. I was initially interested in polymers because they exhibit bizarre mechanical properties, namely viscoelasticity.
In 2004, I moved across the country to pursue my Ph. D. at the University of California, Berkeley. Joining the research group of Prof. Nitash Balsara, I was quickly immersed in the physics of block copolymers. My first diblock copolymer was the ubiquitous polystyrene-block-polymethylmethacrylate (PS-b-PMMA), which I purchased from Polymer Source. However, in keeping with lab culture, I soon began synthesizing my own polymers using anionic and cationic chain growth reactions. Although my Ph. D. work started with the aim of designing gecko-like adhesives using polymer thin films, the project slowly morphed into a fundamental study of the thermodynamics of polymer blends. Taking advantage of the rare lower critical solution temperature (LCST) between two polyolefins, I designed diblock copolymer surfactants that harnessed this favorable interaction. Sponsored by the Dow Chemical Company, I used small-angle neutron scattering to show that the phase behavior and nanostructure of polymer blends with a diblock copolymer “surfactant” could be perfectly predicted using the random phase approximation and self-consistent field theory. The trick that I discovered was to use (an empirically measured) form of the Flory-Huggins parameter, χ, that incorporates a composition dependence into the interactions of the LCST polymer pair! My dissertation, Phase Behavior in Blends of Asymmetric Polyolefins, is available for free online.
I moved to London in 2011, after winning an Imperial College Junior Research Fellowship, to develop a research program that incorporated conjugated block copolymers into organic photovoltaic cells. Generously hosted by my mentor, Dr. João Cabral, I learned many of the softer skills of academia, like writing grants and forming collaborations. Joining the Centre for Plastic Electronics, I met some incredible chemists, physicists, and materials engineers, who helped me advance my research program. Working with a talented synthetic chemist, I designed an all-conjugated diblock copolymer with one amorphous block and the other block crystalline. The kinetics of crystallization and phase separation compete with each other, and with thermodynamic driving forces, resulting in out-of-equilibrium trapped nanostructures. Parsing the interplay of these forces, I was able to design nanostructured solar cells that are thermally stable up to 200°C. Thermal stability has been a huge problem for the commercialization of plastic solar cells, however the task remains of scaling up the sensitive processing of these nanomaterials.
Polymer science has been a full time job since I started my graduate work, and like most sedentary academics, I have developed active hobbies to counteract the huge amount of computer work required. Jogging and cycling are my go-to activities for solo exercise, and when I discovered Berkeley Morris, dancing became my favorite social exercise. Passionate about vegan cooking, I love to host dinner parties for my friends, and I specialize in cooking for people with finicky diets. Joining the fermentation revival, I have started making my own kimchi, kraut, and pickles. Presently, my first ever batch of mead, painstakingly cultivated with wild type yeast, is just about ready for imbibing!