Dr. Nam-Goo Kang served as a Research Assistant Professor and Facilities Director of the Polymer Characterization Lab in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Tennessee (UT). Dr. Kang joined UT after completing a post-doctoral appointment at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, bringing with him a rich background in polymer science research and experience in academia and industry. Specifically, his research focused on the synthesis of functional polymers via living anionic polymerization, and his knowledge in this area was an asset for his work on superelastomers at UT.
Superelastomers are advanced polymer materials that were named and developed by UT Chemistry Professor Dr. Jimmy Mays. These materials are stronger and more elastic than ordinary elastomers (like rubber), and possess the ability to be stretched repeatedly without losing their integrity or their shape. They can also be recycled by melting and reshaping them into a new product. These properties make superelastomers very promising for a number of applications such as ultra-thin surgical gloves, biomaterials, baby care products (e.g., pacifiers and baby bottle nipples), and adhesives.
Despite their superior properties and a favorable reception from industry, superelastomers were too expensive for the commercial market primarily due to their demanding and time-consuming production process. In response, Dr. Kang and Dr. Mays developed a lower cost method for producing superelastomers, employing free-radical polymerization as part of the manufacturing process to reduce cost and simplify synthesis techniques. Their efforts resulted in a superelastomer that is comparable in price to commercially available polymers.
Group image: (l-r) Dr. Misichronis Kostas, Dr. Weiyu Wang, Dr. Nam-Goo Kang, Huiqun Wang (Ph.D. Candidate), and Dr. Jimmy Mays
Shortly after they developed this improved superelastomer production method, Dr. Kang and Dr. Mays were invited by a global chemical company that specializes in innovative polymers to give a seminar on “Graft Copolymers as Superelastomers.” The company’s interest in their research and its promising industrial applications ultimately led to a licensing agreement that was executed in October 2015.
“Polymer materials can be found in any number of consumer products that we use on a daily basis, from plastic bags and car tires to personal electronics,” said Dr. Kang. “I am confident that this licensing agreement is just the first step in improving the quality and performance of advanced thermoplastic elastomers, like superelastomers, and introducing them into even more everyday products.”
Dr. Kang points to the University of Tennessee Research Foundation (UTRF) as playing a significant role in bringing the superelastomer technology to the marketplace by helping him and his research team apply for patent applications and connect with the licensee. He is also grateful for the resources that were made available to him at UT, especially Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s advanced research and characterization instruments and UT’s diverse analysis instruments, which allowed Dr. Kang to enhance the quality of his data and efficiency of data analysis.
“It was a real pleasure to collaborate with Dr. Kang, Dr. Mays, and their research team on the licensing of the superelastomer technology,” said Andreana Leskovjan, Licensing Associate with UTRF. “These new polymer materials hold extraordinary potential for innovations within the thermoplastic elastomer industry and open up the possibility for new applications in the chemical, plastic, and automotive industries, among others.”
Although Dr. Kang has moved on from UT, having accepted a position with Penn Color, Inc. in May 2017, Dr. Mays and his lab are continuing their work to improve superelastomers, specifically to extend this technology from styrene-based to acrylate-based superelastomers.