The possible impact of the research Taylor Lee, ’19 is conducting is hard to overstate. If she is successful, manufacturing and construction around the world may be changed forever. The senior chemistry major is helping to develop a new utility for polymers, large molecules made by bonding atoms and other chemical units together. Polymers are the basis for many materials, such as concrete, glass, paper, plastics, and rubber. Lee’s work could help spark the next industrial revolution.
Lee spent the summer conducting research at the Center for Functional Nanoscale Materials at Clark Atlanta University, working with Dr. Ishrat Khan, a polymer chemist. She wanted to find out if polymers could be used to create a new kind of very strong material when they are reacted with multiwall carbon nanotubes (long, intertwined columns of carbon atoms), which are composed of lightweight molecules stronger than steel.
“I forced the different components to interact in the lab and ‘baked’ them in an oven,” said Lee. “I studied the interactions using infrared spectroscopy, which helps indicate functional groups or groups that indicate specific bonds. I also used nuclear magnetic resonance, which serves the same purpose, and a scanning electron microscope which gives you a better look at bonds. A scanning electron microscope also helps you find different fibers based on hyperpigmentation.”
Lee worked with a research group to discover that poly 4-vinylpyridine, a polymer used in water filtration systems, had a very strong interaction with the carbon. This could form the basis of breakthroughs in materials development.
“The commercialization of these products could make various projects more inexpensive, especially construction projects, because of the light weight and strength of the multiwall carbon nanotube,” she said.
Lee admits that she liked to make things explode while she was growing up in Warner Robins, Georgia, particularly the volcanoes she made out of baking soda and Sprite. She participated in FVSU’s Cooperative Developmental Energy Program’s Math, Science, and Engineering Academy while in high school, so enrolling in the university was natural for her. At FVSU, she said, she has made lifelong friends who helped her understand herself and her abilities better. She’s had to overcome anxiety and learn to deal with stress even in the face of family issues, but her faith in God has helped her succeed. Staff influences, like Dean of Students Wallace Keese and First-year Experience Coordinator Ala-Torya Cranford, also inspired her. She has also been very active as a scholar and student leader, maintaining a grade point average which has her on track to graduate with honors even as she serves as Region III vice chair for the National Society of Black Engineers and president of the FVSU Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women.
“Unifying black women to have a voice on campus and in the community is very important,” she said.