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William Dichtel, PhD

Professor of chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Northwestern University

Potential interview topics: Dichtel is available to speak to organic, polymer and materials chemistry in nanotechnology, such as bio-resorbable materials that may be impactful in tissue engineering as well as sustainability efforts.

William Dichtel has been fascinated with covalent organic frameworks (COFs), an emerging class of designed polymers, since the beginning of his academic career. Now, he is one of the leading figures in chemistry pushing the boundaries of these nanostructured materials. Dichtel’s pioneering work developing COFs is leading to real-world applications in water purification, energy and gas storage, detection of explosives and more.

Dichtel began his work with COFs to unveil exactly how to make the nanomaterials necessary for these applications. He discovered that, unlike traditional organic polymers, COFs exhibit long-range order and permanent porosity. In fine-tuning their pore sizes and functionality through monomer design, Dichtel was able to make more advanced polymer structures to perform in specific ways.

By introducing these functional monomers, Dichtel is transcending the limitations of the original COFs. For example, he is currently working with the Dichtel Research Group at Northwestern University to develop monomers that can accept and then give up electrons quickly and reversibly. With this science, they can create batteries that can charge in seconds rather than minutes or hours. They can also tailor function to different applications: laptop batteries must be designed with the ability to charge and discharge many times, whereas electric car batteries must be designed to discharge rapidly to increase acceleration.

Aside from his research, Dichtel is passionate about investing his time to teaching the next generation of leaders in nanoscience and chemistry. He works with undergraduate students, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in his research group at Northwestern, giving them an outlet for their passion and scientific interests. In turn, the group is pushing the boundaries of what is known about these materials as the first scientists to perform detailed mechanistic studies on COF growth.

As a firm believer in the importance of pushing boundaries, he often works at the intersection of his field and other areas of scientific study. Dichtel’s collaborations have extended to civil and environmental engineers, electrical engineers, biologists, immunologists, mechanical engineers, theorists and physicists, to name a few.

Looking to the future, Dichtel would like to be able to provide new sources of renewable energy to solve problems of environmental policy and ultimately prevent pollution. He believes that technology is the future and hopes that his work, and the work of others, can and will improve human health and happiness.

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