Frank Leibfarth – Polymer Powerhouse is Tapping Organic Chemistry Insights to Build Better Plastics.

As the kicker on the University of South Dakota’s football team, Frank Leibfarth had moments when he stepped onto the field knowing that his single kick would determine whether his team won or lost. “Before you can ever make a game-winning field goal, you have to know you can handle missing one,” Leibfarth says. “You can’t be scared to fail when you walk out there.”

People who have worked with Leibfarth say that experience has served him well.

Earlier this year, Leibfarth, now a chemistry professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, scored big with an advance in polymers—the field in which he did his doctoral work with Craig Hawker at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Leibfarth figured out a way to tweak the synthesis of a family of polymers so that the stereochemical arrangement of its side chains was controlled rather than random.

Creating the polymers with stereocenters that are all the same (or isotactic, as polymer chemists say) made them solid with properties akin to, and in some respects better than, those of commercial polyolefins.

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