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Photo provided courtesy of A. Epstein.

Photo provided courtesy of A. Epstein.


Alex Epstein – who completed his bachelor of science degree in materials science and engineering at the University of Maryland (UMD) in 2018 – received a 2020 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship (GRF). The NSF-GRF offers three years of funding, renewed annually, in support of masters and doctoral research in STEM fields.

The fellowship will support Epstein’s Ph.D. research at the University of California, Berkeley, which focuses on polymers.

“I use computational techniques to help develop new plastics that can be chemically recycled,” Epstein said. “Chemical recycling takes a plastic product and degrades it back to its original molecular building blocks. By recovering those original molecules, chemical recycling allows plastics to be recycled in a way that retains 100% of their value, unlike current mechanical recycling methods. I'm working on an atomic-scale model of the key chemical reaction in that process to further our understanding of how to design chemically recyclable plastics.”

While studying at UMD, Epstein was advised by mechanical engineering professor, Sarah Bergbreiter (now at Carnegie Mellon University), during his freshmen and sophomore years, but after MSE Professor, Yifei Mo (who became his advisor), introduced him to computational materials science, Alex quickly became hooked on how computer simulations can be utilized to both understand materials at the atomic scale, and design new materials.

“For my Ph.D. research, I wanted to continue computational research on sustainable materials, and I was also interested in reducing single-use plastic pollution,” said Epstein. “My advisor at Cal, Prof. Kristin Persson, presented me with an opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Brett Helms, who is developing these new plastics – I’m excited about the potential to accelerate the discovery of sustainable plastics through a close computational-experimental collaboration!” As are we.

May 28, 2020

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