New Faculty Member, 2021-22
Renxuan (Ren) Xie
Assistant Professor, Chemical engineering
The use of plastics is expanding beyond already extensive uses in packaging, construction and automobile manufacturing, according to Renxuan “Ren” Xie, a new assistant professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the Biodesign Institute at ASU.
Xie points to health care and energy industries demanding next-generation plastics with multiple unprecedented functions, such as electrical conductivity, stimuli response and biomimetic capabilities.
The problem is that the majority of these plastic materials are processed by using either energy-intensive methods or toxic solvents, he says.
Those methods and manufacturing processes will likely heighten the scrutiny of plastics due to their problematic environmental impacts.
For Xie, this raises the challenge of overcoming a lack of design strategies to process these functional plastics sustainably without diminishing their performance.
“A breakthrough in this direction would revolutionize the manufacturing of these next-generation plastics,” he says.
Xie’s growing list of achievements would indicate he has the skills to ably pursue that innovation.
Last year, he was selected as the 2020 Future Faculty Scholar by the American Chemical Society’s Division of Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering.
His recent work predicting glass transitions of conjugated polymers and in the 3D printing of bottlebrush polymers has been reported by Phys.org, Science Daily, Scienmag, the 3D Printing Industry journal and other research news outlets.
Now, Xie’s primary research goal is to explore the relationships between the structures, properties and processing of multifunctional plastics, with the goal of making them more sustainable.
He recalls becoming intrigued by the non-Newtonian flow behavior of molten plastics during his undergraduate research, when he was first exposed to the world of rheology — the study of the flow of matter — and plastics processing.
“A deeper understanding of functional plastics on the molecular level during my PhD and postdoctoral work further inspired me to pursue an academic career in polymer physics and rheology,” Xie says.
Motivation to seek a position at ASU, he adds, sprung from “seeing a talented polymer research team and a strong commitment to establishing a world-class center for sustainable polymers and manufacturing.”
In the fall semester, he will teach CHE 461: Process Dynamic Control, with expectations that students will master fundamentals of process control strategies and apply that knowledge in chemical and physical processes on laboratory or industrial scales.
Outside of work, Xie expects to spend time hiking, fishing, cooking — especially barbequing — and also playing table tennis and badminton.