Frontiers Lecture: Dr. Jason Azoulay

Thursday, January 20, 2022 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm

Advancing Aromatic Polymers to New Frontiers of Functionality

Synthetic aromatic polymers are ubiquitous and indispensable to modern life, industry, and the global economy. The presence of planar, rigid aromatic, or pseudo-aromatic heterocycles within these polymers imparts robust properties that enable their broad utility in commodity, specialty, and high-performance applications such as packaging, textiles, transportation, construction, healthcare, electronics, energy, the environment, and many others. Despite their vital technological roles, these macromolecules rarely possess the same fidelity in their chemistry when compared to their aliphatic counterparts, aromatic “plastics” are largely unsustainable, and the demands of emerging technologies require functionalities and forms that remain inaccessible. A guiding philosophy of research within the Azoulay group is to unite synthetic methodology development with materials science, physics, and engineering to develop and apply next-generation functional materials that overcome critical technological barriers. First, I will discuss our pioneering efforts in developing new patterns of catalytic reactivity for homogenous gold catalysts that promote efficient and chemoselective transformations between traditionally unreactive bonds in monomers and polymers. This has enabled fundamentally new chemical mechanisms for macromolecular transformations, novel polymer chemistries with enhanced structural and functional complexity, the simplification of polymer library production for advanced materials development, and potentially transformative recycling and upcycling processes. Next, we address challenging frontiers in conjugated polymers (CPs)—aromatic macromolecules with a delocalized electronic structure—by demonstrating synthetic approaches that enable precise control of the many chemical, electronic, and structural features that affect electronic coherence along the p-conjugated backbone. Through enabling unprecedented levels of bandgap control across the electromagnetic spectrum and articulating novel mechanisms of electron-pairing, spin alignment, and exchange, we have enabled the synthesis of CPs with ground states that span the entire range from “conventional” closed-shell structures to singlet (S = 0) biradicaloids with varying degrees of open-shell character, to diradicals in triplet (S = 1) and very high-spin states. This fundamentally new paradigm for CPs and open-shell molecules provides materials with weaker intramolecular electron-electron pairing and stronger electronic correlations than their closed-shell counterparts, which imparts novel infrared, optical, non-linear, excited state, transport, thermal, spin, magnetic, quantum, and coherent phenomena not previously measured in soft-matter (polymer) systems. These novel attributes have enabled new optoelectronic and device functionalities that cannot be realized with current semiconductor technologies and provide a remarkable platform to study new phenomena at the interface of various fields such as chemistry, condensed matter physics, and quantum matter.

Biography. Jason Azoulay obtained his B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Connecticut in 2004. After a short time in industry, he moved to the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) for his graduate education under the supervision of Professor Guillermo Bazan, where he studied late transition metal catalysts for olefin polymerization. After completing his Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2010, he performed his postdoctoral studies at the Center for Polymers and Organic Solids at UCSB (2010-2011) and Sandia National Laboratories (2011-2014) in optoelectronic materials and devices. He joined the faculty in the School of Polymer Science and Engineering at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) in 2014. His research group focuses on homogeneous catalysis applied to the synthesis of novel polymers; electronic, photonic, magnetic, and quantum materials; and multidisciplinary investigations that address large-scale objectives in materials development. He was awarded second place in the Nokia Bell Labs Prize competition for his work on infrared optoelectronics in 2017, named Nina Bell Suggs Professor in 2018, named Scholarly Researcher of the Year at USM in 2020, and is the recipient of a DOE Early Career Award. He is currently an Associate Professor at USM, Director of the Center for Optoelectronic Materials and Devices, and founder and president of a startup company.

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