418364 Molecular Interactions and Behavior in Complex Systems

Sunday, November 8, 2015
Exhibit Hall 1 (Salt Palace Convention Center)
Blair Kathryn Brettmann, Institute for Molecular Engineering, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL

In the coming years I aim to establish an independent research program focused on molecular interactions and behavior in complex systems. I have set this direction due to my PhD work on molecular level mixing in pharmaceutical drug products and from my time in the building materials industry, where I noted a large unmet need for deeper understanding of complex products, especially polymer composites. As a future principle investigator, my research program will combine a scientific understanding of behavior and structure on the molecular to micron scale with a drive towards complex systems encountered in realistic applications. 

During my PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with Bernhardt Trout and Allan Myerson, I was part of the MIT-Novartis Center for Continuous Manufacturing. We focused on transitioning from batch to continuous processing of pharmaceuticals, and, as part of the downstream team, I developed an electrospinning-based method of mixing polymer excipients with active ingredients in solution and drying into a film that could be processed into a tablet. Key to adoption of our manufacturing process was a thorough understanding of the mixing of the active ingredient with the polymer and how that affects the properties of the final drug product. Using solid-state NMR, I was able to confirm homogeneous mixing with no phase separation, which provided enhanced stability and drug release behavior. For rapid development and high quality products, studies such as this on molecular to micron scale behavior are essential at early stages of process and product development. This was also evident during my two years at Saint-Gobain, where I worked on projects relating to solution deposition of coatings from polymer and particle mixtures.

Driven by a desire to understand molecular interactions in the types of complex systems I worked with at Saint-Gobain, my post-doctoral research at the University of Chicago with Matthew Tirrell in conjunction with Phillip Pincus at the University of California Santa Barbara has been focused on modeling polyelectrolyte brush collapse in the presence of multivalent ions. This has allowed me to explore the behavior of industrially relevant materials in much greater depth, with the end goal of improving control of their properties and utility for a wider variety of applications.

Going forward, an understanding of the detailed interactions and behaviors of mixtures will become increasingly important as products with higher levels of functionality are developed and require more complex combinations of components, all while maintaining low production costs. This is the case for applications ranging from pharmaceutical products to energy efficient building materials, and my future research will focus on improving the understanding of these systems in order to greatly reduce the time for development of new products and improve the overall performance and quality.

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