PSU embarks on polymer science initiative

Michael Bauer, Editor-in-Chief

It’s an initiative that’s been three years in the making and it’s now about to take full effect this fall. PSU’s Polymer Science Initiative will enroll its first students this year, offering a new bachelor’s degree program.
Polymers are material built of large molecules that are composed of one or more types of structural building blocks which repeat many times along their structure.
Petar Dvornic, Ph.D., chairman of Pittsburg State University’s Department of Chemistry, says that PSU’s new polymer chemistry initiative is an academic program that he hopes will create polymer chemists for high-value jobs in industry and research.
PSU is also one of the few campuses in the country to offer a polymer initiative.
“Since there is no other polymer science programs in the broader region and comparable B.S. programs are very rare even nationally, this PSU program and its graduates can be expected to have a very promising future in industry or academia,” Dvornic said.
The program was started after a proposal was written in 2011 and was supported by the Kansas Legislature in 2013. During that time, the university has been bringing in teachers and building the space necessary for the program.
“We started receiving money to start the program up and hiring people and developing labs,” said Karl Kunkel, dean of PSU’s College of Arts and Sciences.
“We have a vision to be a center for excellence for polymer research and excellence, not only in this region but also in the United States,” he said. “We’ve been doing a lot of work investing state money into this initiative.”
Kunkel emphasized that PSU has three main units that will provide the material resources of the program: the Chemistry Department in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Plastics Engineering Technology Program in the College of Technology and the Kansas Polymer Research Center and a professional research institution.
“We have the KPRC here in town but they weren’t affiliated with the academics. So they solicit contracts with industry,” Kunkel said. “We had a lot of good science going on out there and we had a tremendous learning opportunity so we wanted to link the polymer research center with the department of chemistry to create that three-legged stool.”
The polymer chemistry program will be coordinated by Dvornic along with various other PSU faculty providing foundational coursework as needed, including faculty from the physics and biology departments.
While the bachelor’s program is scheduled to start this fall, the master’s program is still a work in progress.
Because PSU is one of the few campuses in the nation that offer polymer science, the university will work with other campuses around the country in coordination. Those include Akron, Southern Mississippi and the University of Massachusetts.
“No other university within a 350-mile radius offers this type of program,” Kunkel said.
Dvornic says he expects to have about 10 students enrolled in the fall while they are shooting for a goal of 20 to 30 as the bachelor’s program grows.
“We hope to expand through collaboration with other departments such as math and biology,” he said.

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