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ChE News Spring 2015
ChE News Spring 2015:
Assistant Professor Geoffrey Geise —Tuning Polymer Membranes for Water and Energy Applications

Assistant Professor Geoffrey Geise

Pure water and clean energy: Abundant supplies of each are essential for meeting the needs of the growing global population intent on industrializing and raising its standard of living. In both areas, customdesigned polymer membranes are emerging as an enabling technology. Polymer membranes are already being used in desalination plants around the world. They are also essential in emerging flow battery technologies and could make possible the large-scale introduction of salinity gradient power generation, a method of energy generation that capitalizes on the difference in salinity between seawater and fresh water.

“To create optimized membranes for these applications and others, we must build a better understanding of how to design polymers with specific combinations of properties,” says Assistant Professor Geoffrey Geise. “We must also link these properties, such as selectivity and permeability, to functional qualities like chemical stability. Our long-term goal is to learn how to tune polymer transport properties for specific applications.”

Geoff is exploring the influence of polymer backbone rigidity on salt and water selectivity. He is also investigating the energetics of ion interactions with polymers. “By changing the electrical properties of the polymer, we can enhance or restrict transport,” he says.

Geoff developed his interest in polymeric materials for desalination applications as a master’s and doctoral student at the University of Texas. While in Austin, he also experienced firsthand the consequences of water shortages, as municipalities across central Texas, in the grip of the most severe drought on the record books, imposed water restrictions. “It really brought home to me how society has come to depend on bountiful supplies of clean water,” he says.

One reason that Geoff chose to come to U.Va. after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Penn State was the critical mass of faculty interested in soft materials and water and energy issues, both in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences as well as in the College. “I’ve found a supportive professional environment of people doing research in complementary areas,” he says.

As a new faculty member, Geoff also appreciates the collegial atmosphere in the department — a half dozen faculty members have lunch together on a regular basis, for example — and the care with which the Engineering School conducts orientation for new faculty. “I’ve been exposed to a lot since I came here in August,” he says. “It’s great to have a group of people you can turn to for insight and advice.”