Black Faculty Feature

Black Excellence Making a Difference at the University of Waterloo

Meet Tizazu Mekonnen

Assistant Professor, Chemical Engineering

University of Waterloo
Research Interests

Functional polymers, Sustainable polymers and nanomaterials, Polymer modification, Multiphase and multifunctional polymers, Polymer processing, Nanocomposites 

Biography

My research focuses on the rational design of sustainable polymer and nanomaterial systems for a range of industrial, engineering, and advanced material applications. My group seeks to advance the sustainability and functionality of polymers, and our scope includes the following: 

Sustainable polymer systems

The utilization of renewable resources for polymer production is receiving substantial interest. My group is interested in bio-based and renewable macromolecules (e.g. starch, cellulose, cellulose nanocrystals, lignin, biocarbon, tannins, and chitosan) as a feedstock to fabricate nanomaterials and a variety of sustainable materials including elastomers, plastics, hydrogels, engineering polymers, and nanocomposites. We employ various chemical tailoring strategies and polymer processing technologies to make these feedstocks more suitable for polymeric materials. 

Polymer modification and processing 

The chemical modification of polymers is a post-polymerization process which is used to (i) improve and optimize the properties of existing polymers, and (ii) introduce desirable functional attributes in the polymer. My group focuses on the design and development of modification processes/systems by utilizing Chemistry and Engineering tools. 

We also target addressing the challenges associated with microstructure –processing – properties of polymer blends and their stabilization. We specifically target using chemistry and polymer processing tools to optimize the dispersion of nanoparticles in various single and multiphase polymer matrices for functional applications. We work with industrial collaborators and support application development efforts in packaging materials, lightly cured rubber latex products (e.g., gloves, condoms), highly cured rubber products (tire treads, shoe soles, conveyor belts), barrier films, coatings and paint, adhesives, engineering composites with functional attributes. 

Nanomaterials and nanocomposites 

My research interest in nanomaterials focuses on innovating novel techniques for the synthesis, modification, characterization, and applications of renewable polymer-based nanomaterials. I have targeted functional nanomaterials with attributes for antimicrobial carriers, UV and X-ray shielding properties, corrosion inhibiting additives, oxygen scavenging films, superhydrophobic coatings, and dipped rubber goods. A critical challenge in nanocomposite research is to translate the exceptional nanoscale properties of nanomaterials to the macroscale, which relies on the dispersion of nanomaterials, selection of matrices, and optimization of composite microstructures. Drawing inspirations from natural composites (e.g. Teeth, turtle and eggshells, bones, wood, etc.), my team aims to achieve similar multiphase and multifunctional polymeric materials via appropriate polymer modifications along with composite architectures to ensure the multi-parameter property optimizations for corresponding applications.  

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