Professor Gregory Sotzing
The University of Connecticut’s Professor Gregory Sotzing, who has developed different polymers like a color-changing fabric. Photo courtesy of Sotzing Research Group

Researchers from the University of Connecticut’s Sotzing Research Group are studying conductive and dielectric polymers for a number of applications, from color-changing fabric to medical applications of chemicals in cannabis to high-speed projectile launchers for the military.

The group is led by chemistry professor Gregory Sotzing. The group’s wide-ranging base of research is due to the number of applications for the polymers they study.

Sotzing explained that studying polymers really just means making new kinds of materials.

“We’re pretty much the people who make new materials, new compositions of matter. Then the engineers will take and test out these new things and see how well they work inside of certain kinds of applications,” Sotzing said.

One example of this is the group’s work with polymers for different types of capacitors.

“The dielectric polymers we use towards going to high energy density capacitors, a Navy project for the railgun and electro-catapulting. So, big guns and throwing things from aircraft carriers,” Sotzing said. “So we work to develop new polymers for that application that would go up to high temperatures.”

The Navy isn’t the only place the Sotzing Group has joined forces with. As listed on the group’s website, some of Sotzing’s other collaborators include Kraft Foods, Samsung and Victoria’s Secret. Sotzing said his group has also collaborated with Purdue University, Georgia Institute of Technology and Stanford University.

Some of the group’s research also requires cooperation across campus. Specifically, the group’s research into wearable technology has taken them out of the chemistry department and to the Schools of Engineering and Fine Arts.

“We just published a paper on a fabric radar system. The idea is that it’s an all-organic fabric, and then we used Nike’s synthetic leather, like you have on your sneakers,” Sotzing said. “So we took that and did some screen printing out with Laurie Sloan out in fine arts. She helped us print the electronic material onto the fabric. Then we worked with Yang Cao in electrical engineering and he put together the antenna.”

Sotzing has also worked with the UConn Technology Incubation Program on a start-up called 3BC, which works on trace cannabinoids, the main one being cannabinol.

“It’s supposed to be good for sleep, as well as being touted for anti-anxiety and also looking at things like bone regeneration. I don’t know how well it does the bone regeneration, but that’s the point: To make more of this stuff so people can take it and study it,” Sotzing said.

The main purpose of his cannabinoid research, which he also does inside the Sotzing Research Group, is to help develop opioid alternatives. Last year, in Connecticut alone there were 1,200 opioid-related deaths, a nearly 20% spike.

“The cannabinoids would be something people could take to help them sleep easier, could be a muscle relaxant, but something that would be non-addictive,” Sotzing said.

All of this research doesn’t just stay in the lab. Sotzing said he was “prolific with patenting,” with 40 different patents in his name.

“We’ve made fabric that can electronically change color and right now we’ve been invited for a proposal looking at the transition between camouflage colors. We also had some patents involving making the materials for the electrochromic for the eyewear,” Sotzing said. “We had patents that sold off to Samsung Electronics several years ago in the area of displays and display technology. Also making materials that would have cannabinoids and things inside of them, for drug release systems. And I’m working on several patents right now.”

Color changing fabric created by the Sotzing Research Group
The color changing fabric created by Sotzing Research Group, which can show the UConn logo in normal blue or a more translucent light blue. Photo courtesy of Sotzing Research Group

Sotzing explained that patents can be part of the research process.

“[Patenting] usually is done before research papers to make sure we secure the intellectual property,” Sotzing said.

Sotzing explained that the inspiration for his eclectic base of research comes from following what he’s interested in. He gave the example of the color-changing fabric he worked on with Victoria’s Secret.

“Harry Potter with the invisibility cloak, The Predator, The Invisible Man, Black Panther and how they disguised their whole city, The Avengers. You take one of those things that you’re very interested in, and you say something like, well maybe if I make a display on a piece of fabric then that will go towards someone becoming invisible,” Sotzing said.

His advice to anyone interested in research came from the same idea: The best discoveries come from passion.

“In general, you have to work on what you’re motivated for,” Sotzing said. “You set out for something you believe in, you try to find a solution for it. The idea would be that I see this stuff, I’m interested in it, I see it serves a greater type [of] good, I’m motivated, and that’s where I go into doing research.”

Article courtesy of The Daily Campus by Grace McFadden