Monday’s meeting with Dr. John Pojman, an LSU professor specializing in polymers, was a great exchange of ideas. Pojman is a prototypical eccentric professor, who defines himself as a chemist, amateur herpetologist, and self-proclaimed owner of the world’s largest pocket protector collection. His is a gregarious researcher who can quickly go from a light-hearted story to insightful scientific findings in a flash. He visited NCPTT in hopes of learning more about historic preservation and offering possible solutions with chemically-engineered polymers.
Pojman creates new polymers – long-chained molecules that twist, tangle, and crosslink to make things like things like composites, similar to BONDO for car repair. He uses a technique called frontal polymerization. First, un-reacted chemical building blocks are mixed together with compounds that are called initiators. Upon application of heat or light, a chain reaction starts that builds a solid polymer, which propagates along a front between the liquid and solid.
There are several advantages of using frontal polymerization for making new polymers. The starting materials have a long shelf life. The chemical building blocks can be easily modified with the addition of fillers like nanoparticles. Most importantly, the polymers can be cured quickly with heat or light. For example, instead of waiting 24-36 hours for a typical wood putty to cure before sanding, a cure-on-demand wood putty made using frontal polymerization can cure in less than 30 seconds!
During his visit to NCPTT, Pojman had the opportunity to speak to a group of 20 students, professors, and colleagues on the different uses of his technology. In turn, he learned some of the materials needs for the preservation community. Discussions focused on key questions like matching the properties of polymers to materials being treated, and more.
“I was impressed with the range and quality of research projects at the Center. I look forward to further interactions with the members of the Center and hope I can contribute to their important work,” Pojman said.
Pojman’s work is similar to research undertaken by NCPTT’s materials conservation program in partnership with Dr. Derek Patton at the University of Southern Mississippi. Patton and NCPTT researchers are investigating light-induced polymerization for creating stone strengtheners with funding from the National Science Foundation.