Each year, the Prizes for Excellence in Research are awarded to top-ranking researchers at Queen’s who have made significant contributions to their field, paving the way for future scholars to follow in their footsteps and expanding the innovative world of research at the university. Recently, Leigh Cameron interviewed each recipient of the 2015 prize, exploring their research interests and inspirations.
Dr. Guojun Liu is a professor of chemistry and the Canada Research Chair in Materials Science. His research is focused on applications of polymer nanostructured materials, including nanoglide coatings and monolayer technologies. Liu has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Captain Alfred E. Hung Award from the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (2011).
What drew you to this field of research?
I liked science when I was young, but it was accidental that I got into chemistry. Picking a university in China is different – you pick your major before you enter. My university was strong in chemistry. I got into making nanostructured polymeric materials because of a review paper that I read. The paper talked about how a particular type of polymer – block copolymers – self-organized in the solid state into nanostructured patterns. No chemistry was done to these nanostructured patterns then. I thought that I could selectively degrade, for example, some regions in these patterns to make new materials.
What is next for your research?
In the first 15-20 years, we were mostly working on the fundamental side. We developed general methodologies for making nano-objects from polymers. We prepared and studied novel nanostructures. Before I retire, I want to see applications of those methodologies, or applications for the nano-objects that we have created. For example, we have recently designed and developed a nanostructured polymer coating that is transparent and adheres well to most surfaces. This coating repels water, oil, ink, paint and essentially any liquid that you can possibly encounter. It also reduces fingerprint and smudge deposition, among other benefits. We see its potential in anti-graffiti and anti-fingerprint applications. The coating will also be useful in reducing friction when applied on ship hulls or on the internal walls of oil-transporting pipelines.
What advice would you give to the next generation of researchers?
I always encourage my students to really think about applications. Not to just learn, but really think about how to use the knowledge. In my polymer and materials chemistry courses, I ask each of my students to think of a product that does not perform to his/her satisfaction and propose a solution or improvement.
(e)AFFECT Issue 9 Spring/Summer 2016
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Dr. Liu's research