Areas of Research

The primary focus of the Epps laboratory lies in designing, building, and characterizing new polymeric materials exhibiting molecular level self-assembly. Several applications for block copolymers and polymer blends under investigation in our group include: battery and fuel cell membranes, organic photovoltaics, analytical separations membranes, nanoscale containers and scaffolds for targeted drug delivery, precursors to electronic arrays, and surface responsive materials. We manipulate polymer internal and external interfacial characteristics in bulk and thin film environments to influence the ordering and stability of polymer structures. Assembly processes in our materials are explored with a comprehensive array of reciprocal space (small and wide-angle x-ray and neutron scattering), real space (optical, scanning probe, and electron microscopy), mechanical (dynamic mechanical analysis), and spectroscopic (x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, near-edge x-ray absorption fine structure, and infrared spectroscopy) techniques. Researchers in the group gain experience in chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science, and biology. Our work can be divided into the following areas:

Valorization of Biomass

Because of its natural abundance, lignocellulosic biomass is being widely investigated as a renewable feedstock that could serve as an alternative to petroleum-derived chemicals. Although significant advances in its utilization have been developed, there remains great opportunity in the valorization of renewable biomass to create value-added materials.

Renewable Polymers from Waste Streams

Renewable polymers are needed to help reduce global dependence on petrochemicals. Many renewable polymers are also biodegradable, biocompatible, and beneficial for a variety of applications, such as compostable cups and cutlery, elastomeric shoe soles and car tires, sturdy machine parts and electronics casings, and compatibilizing agents.

Nanostructured Polymer for Ion-Conduction

Lithium-ion batteries are a rapidly-growing industry with widespread applications and superior performance in comparison to other energy storage devices. Block polymer electrolytes show promise in addressing some of the safety and performance limitations of the current liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries.

Polymer / MOF Composites

The incorporation of porous nanoparticles into polymers to form mixed matrix and fiber-based composites is a burgeoning area relevant in applications such as separations, catalysis, drug delivery, and protection.

Polymer Thin Films

Many applications and devices require controlled distribution of material functionality in multiple dimensions. At the nanometer length scale, attempts to meet this challenge have included template-mediated materials chemistry.

Polymeric Assemblies for Nucleic Acid Delivery

Polymeric nanomaterial assemblies have several attractive features including tunability, control over the size and structure of the assemblies, and enhanced stability. Furthermore, the chemical versatility of polymers enables the incorporation of various stimuli-responsive moieties.