High school student project scores journal cover

A NCCR Bio-Inspired Materials student project carried out at the Adolphe Merkle Institute (AMI) was selected for the cover of the May 2016 edition of the journal Macromolecular Materials and Engineering. Adrien Holtz, who is working towards his baccalaureate at Fribourg’s Gambach College, worked with NCCR PhD student Anna Lavrenova of the AMI Polymer Chemistry & Materials group.

Adrien, who will graduate in 2017, had to carry out an individual research project as part of the criteria fulfilling the baccalaureate requirements. With the support of his chemistry teacher, he was able to undertake it at AMI.

“These projects are the only opportunity we get to experience in something new and different outside of our traditional classrooms,” he explained. “The most interesting part of this internship was that I was able to work in a research facility where I could learn how science is carried out.”

NCCR Bio-Inspired Materials director and AMI professor of Polymer Chemistry & Materials Christoph Weder set Adrien to work on mechanochromic polymers, materials that change their absorption color in response to mechanical action. The aim was to show that a specific type of material - a polyamide - could change color under mechanical stress if blended with a specific dye.

With Anna Lavrenova as his mentor, the high school student spent two weeks on research and writing up his final report during his summer holidays. “Anna helped me through the whole process. As I had no prior knowledge of the subject and no experience, without her patience it could have been a disaster,” he pointed out.

Lavrenova found the experience interesting. “The project involved quite advanced science in terms of chemistry and physics. Adrien had to come to grips with this, but he was capable afterwards of explaining what he did as well as the results to a non-specialist audience,” she added.

The PhD student was tasked first with explaining the project and the theory behind to Adrien, then show him how to use various instruments and finally work with him on his report. His project was extremely well received by his teachers and an external expert back at the college since he was awarded the maximum number of available points.

This result was helped by the fact that Adrien’s work was included as part of an article published in the peer-reviewed Macromolecular Materials and Engineering journal (“Deformation-Induced Color Changes in Melt-Processed Polyamide 12 Blends”) and chosen for the cover.

“When I presented my project at my school, the jury was impressed by its complexity and the fact that there was a publication from it,” he said. “Being featured on the journal cover came as a surprise to me though! I don't think that it ever happened to anyone else at my school so I was obviously very proud of it!”

The research itself points to possible applications. Polyamides are already in widespread commercial use and the mechanochromic effect could be integrated to use them as internal strain or pressure sensors.

Adrien certainly encourages anyone tempted by his experience to do the same. “It is personal, interesting and most importantly you actually learn something new!”

Reference: Deformation-Induced Color Changes in Melt-Processed Polyamide 12 Blends http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mame.201500403/abstract

The National Centers of Competence in Research (NCCR) are a research instrument of the Swiss National Science Foundation
Hosted by: Adolphe Merkle Institute - Chemin des Verdiers 4 - CH-1700 Fribourg - Phone +41 26 300 9266