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Polymers take on new importance for Ohio’s economy and educators

Polymers — large molecules ranging from plastics and rubber to protein and DNA — have become commonplace, especially in Ohio’s industries. Our state is home to the largest polymer industry cluster in America and is recognized as a leader worldwide, according to PolymerOhio, an industry organization. And, Ohio is the No. 1 producer of both plastic and rubber products, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with 76 of the state’s 88 counties having at least one polymer company. That means 1,150 polymer establishments in the state and lots of well-paying, close-to-home jobs for Ohio STEM students.

Helping to prepare students for those jobs is the University of Akron, which has been a leader in the polymer sciences for more than 100 years. Recently, its College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering introduced a minor in the discipline. By adding the minor, more university students pursuing other STEM-related majors can expand their expertise to this growing field. To find out more about the minor, we contacted John Fellenstein, a content specialist at the university’s Akron Global Polymer Academy, an outreach arm for the college:

Q: What is polymer science and engineering, and why is it important? What research and careers involve aspects of polymer science and engineering?

A: Polymers have become an integral part of virtually all industries, from food and beverage packaging to transportation to the medical industry.

Polymers are valued for their wide range of properties, allowing them to be useful in many unique ways. Lightweight and strong, polymers are versatile materials that have found their way into many aspects of our lives.

Polymer science and engineering is a branch of materials science and engineering that is concerned with creating synthetic polymeric materials and developing effective uses for these materials in modern society.

Many career paths cross with polymer science and engineering, including engineering (mechanical, aerospace, biomedical and computer); chemistry; transportation; manufacturing; and health care.

Q: What is the University of Akron’s history with polymer science and engineering, and why did the university launch a polymer science minor?

A:  The University of Akron has been a leader in polymer science and engineering since the beginnings of the industry. The first class on rubber chemistry was taught here in 1909, and the university was instrumental in developing the synthetic rubber industry in the 1940s and ‘50s. The University of Akron offered the world’s first polymer science Ph.D. program during the 1950s.

In launching the minor, we discovered that there are many opportunities for employees who work in STEM fields to interact with polymeric materials. The addition of a minor in polymer science and polymer engineering is an effective way for students with STEM majors to broaden their marketability during their job searches.

Q: What majors might benefit from adding the minor in polymer science engineering? In taking courses for the minor at Akron, what kind of science will undergraduates be exposed to?

A: All STEM majors can benefit from adding the polymer science and polymer engineering minor to their resume. The program includes (among others) courses in polymer science, polymer engineering, materials science, polymer chemistry, polymer physics and polymer processing.

Q: Tell us about the Akron Global Polymer Academy: What is it, what does it do, and what is your role with the academy?

A: The Akron Global Polymer Academy is the outreach arm for the College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering. We support the college by providing opportunities for teachers and students to experience the exciting world of polymers through a variety of offerings, including in-school visits featuring engaging hands-on demonstrations, polymer family science nights, field trips to our exciting research college and many polymer-related classroom resources.

We also sponsor and run two large science outreach events on campus: the Akron Regional Science Olympiad and the Western Reserve District 5 Science Day. These two events bring more than 1,000 students from the surrounding area to campus each March.

Q: How could K-12 educators incorporate polymer science exploration into their course work? Does the academy have resources to help educators in this effort?

A: We host a large number of STEM lessons on our website, linked here: https://uakron.edu/cpspe/agpa-k12outreach/lesson-plans/

Q: How can educators get more information on polymer science, the academy and the minor?

A: Information about the minor can be found here: https://uakron.edu/cpspe/academics/minor/

If you would like more information about services available through the Akron Global Polymer Academy, contact me (jfellenstein@uakron.edu), or visit our website https://uakron.edu/cpspe/agpa-k12outreach/

 

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