Al Schwab

Dr. Al Schwab, Assistant Professor - Physical Chemistry

349 CAP, (828) 262-6808

Dr. Schwab's personal website

Dr. Schwab received his Ph.D. in Polymer Science from The University of Akron and his B.S. in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His main research interests include the development of metallic nanoparticles as broadly applicable photocatalysts, computational studies of nanometer-scale self-assembly, and the development of novel rubber materials.

When illuminated with laser radiation, metallic nanoparticles have the ability to enhance light intensity at the surface of the particle. When these particles are dispersed in a system of photochemical reagents, the light intensity enhancement can lead to an overall increase in the reaction rate. Like conventional catalysts, the nanoparticles would not be consumed in the course of the resulting chemical reaction. Unlike conventional catalysts, the nanoparticles can catalyze any photochemical reaction rather than reactions involving specific reactants. A student project in this area involves the synthesis of metal nanoparticles, characterization of particles with electron microscopy, and quantification of photochemical rates upon laser exposure.

Self-assembly, a process wherein molecules assemble into larger-scale objects is an important component of biological structure formation as well as a vital tool in the burgeoning field of nanotechnology. In general, intermolecular attractive interactions drive molecular assembly and entropy counters assembly. One quickly realizes, however, that these thermodynamic counterparts are rather limited in their ability to control the overall size of any given assembly. To address these issues of assembly size control, computational studies will be implemented to determine the limits of thermodynamic size control and to devise assembly design strategies using computational evolution algorithms. A student project in this area will involve programming of Monte Carlo simulations and computer analyses of simulation results.

Rubber materials are typically composed of long chain molecules that are covalently cross-linked to one another. These covalent cross-links impart the material with the ability to reversibly stretch to great lengths, but also remove the material’s ability to be recycled. By altering the chemical nature of the cross-links between the polymer chain molecules, these materials can be made recyclable. The unique cross-linking chemistry also offers several possibilities for developing rubber materials that act as sensors to various stimuli. A student project in this area will include the synthesis of new polymeric materials and their subsequent optical and mechanical characterization.