IME welcomes materials scientist Stuart Rowan

Stephanie Bi

Stuart Rowan, PhD, a prominent soft materials scientist, has been appointed as a full professor at IME. Rowan will be arriving at the University of Chicago in July, leaving his current home institution of Case Western Reserve University. At Case Western, Rowan is the Kent H. Smith Professor of Engineering in the Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering with secondary appointments in Biomedical Engineering and Chemistry, and Director of the Institute for Advanced Materials. 

Trained as a polymer chemist, Rowan focuses on the design and synthesis of new soft materials. For example, one focus of the Rowan group is developing materials that are “adaptive,” that is—change properties in response to their environment—e.g., materials that switch to mimic the stiffness of tissue in order to enhance biocompatibility when implanted in the body. Other classes of soft materials Rowan is developing include self-healing materials, offering the example that “when a piece of plastic breaks, you just throw it out. What if that material can repair itself? Now it can be reused time and time again—it dramatically reduces waste and increases longevity of the material.”

Rowan is thrilled by the opportunities available at IME and the University at large. He stated that “what is going on at the IME is unique. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come and help shape the development of engineering education and research that is going on there. Also, the quality of the students at the University of Chicago helped make my choice a no-brainer.” 

Specifically, given IME’s focuses on water purification and battery research, Rowan hopes to develop switchable/adaptable membranes with applications in those areas. In addition, Rowan is excited to meet and collaborate with IME researchers, researchers across the other science disciplines, as well as with members of the hospital and biomedical community at the University.

Paul Nealey, the Dougan Professor in Molecular Engineering at IME, was the chair of the search committee for Stuart Rowan. Nealey commented, “[Rowan] is one of the preeminent soft material engineers in the world. He leads research projects of national and international import, and will complement a wide range of ongoing projects in the IME involving polymers and biological materials engineering—for example with Professors Tirrell, DePablo, Tay (when he comes), and myself. His work brings a strong synthetic component to the Institute.”

Nealey also highlighted the Mark Scholar Award that Rowan received in 2015, a prestigious award from the American Chemical Society (ACS) that recognizes outstanding research leadership in polymer science. 

Rowan describes his philosophy in this way: “I’ve never been scared of moving completely into new fields—that way you’re always on a steep learning curve and you’re always learning something new—that’s the fun thing about being at a university and working with talented students and colleagues. What’s the next thing we can discover? How can we design and develop materials that exhibit properties not seen before and how can we use materials we have developed in new ways that we haven’t even thought about before?”