Excellence in Thermoset Polymer Research Award

The Thermoset Resin Formulators Association (TRFA) developed the Excellence in Thermoset Polymer Research competition to encourage and recognize advances in the science, engineering, and technology of thermosetting polymers and their formulations, used in a variety of industrial applications such as adhesives, sealants, electronic encapsulants, coatings, composites, and molding compounds. It is intended to provide student researchers with visibility and exposure to potential future employers.

The competition is open to all BS, MS and PhD students at an accredited college or university in the USA and Canada.

Grand Prize
  • $1,500 cash award and an award plaque.
  • An invitation to present the winning paper at the TRFA Annual Meeting with complimentary registration for one person.
  • Two-night complimentary accommodation at the TRFA meeting hotel.
  • Additional travel allowance for one person up to $500.
  • Award winner will have their name and research title posted on the TRFA website and to be included in TRFA Meeting Materials, distributed to all attendees.
Check back soon for more information regarding the 2025 award!

2024 Excellence in Thermoset Polymer Research Award Winners

The Thermoset Resin Formulators Association (TRFA) is pleased to announce the winners of the 2024 Annual Excellence in Thermoset Polymer Research Award Competition.

2024 Grand Prize Winner

 Sampanna V. Mhatre, University of Delaware
"Lignin-derivable alternatives to petroleum-derived non-isocyanate polyurethane thermosets with enhanced toughness"

The structural similarities between lignin-derivable bisguaiacols and petroleum-derived bisphenol A/F (BPA/BPF) suggest that bisguaiacols could be ideal biobased alternatives to BPA/
BPF in non-isocyanate polyurethane (NIPU) thermosets. Herein, bisguaiacol/bisphenol-derived cyclic carbonates with variations in methoxy content and bridging-carbon substitution were cured with two triamines of different chain lengths, and the impact of these differences on the thermomechanical properties of NIPU networks was examined. The methoxy groups present in the lignin-derivable cyclic 
carbonates led to thermosets with significantly improved toughness (~49–59 MJ/m3) and elongation at break (εb ~195–¬278%) vs. the BPA/BPF-based benchmarks (toughness ~26–35 MJ/m3, εb ~86– 166%). Furthermore, the addition of dimethyl substitution on the bridging carbon resulted in increased yield strength (σy) – from ~28 MPa for networks with unsubstituted bridging carbons to ~45 MPa for the dimethyl-substituted materials. These enhancements to mechanical properties were achieved while retaining essential thermoset properties, such as application-relevant moduli and thermal stabilities. Finally, the triamine crosslinkers provided substantial tunability of thermomechanical properties and produced NIPUs that ranged from rigid materials with a high yield strength (σy ~65–88 MPa) to flexible and tough networks. Overall, the structure-property relationships presented herein highlight a promising framework for the design of versatile, bio-derivable, NIPU thermosets.

2024 Honorable Mention

Alex Mary, Laval University
"Upcycling of protein concentrates from industrial byproducts into polyurethane wood adhesives"

Wood structures commonly rely on synthetic adhesives for their robust bonding and versatility. However, growing concerns about the health hazards linked to the chemical composition of these adhesives, particularly formaldehyde emissions, have spurred the quest for safer adhesive options. Among the alternatives, polyurethane adhesives have emerged as a promising substitute for formaldehyde-emitting adhesives. Researchers have explored replacing petroleum-based constituents with natural sources such as lignins, tannins, and proteins. Of these alternatives, proteins, being biological macromolecules, are recognized for their capacity to enhance adhesion to wood substrates. This study delves into the development of proteinbased adhesives derived from diverse sources, including soybean meal, microbrewery spent grains, shrimp shells, and skim milk powder. These raw materials were subjected to mild alkaline conditions to yield protein concentrates. The resulting adhesives were formulated at various protein content levels: 5%, 10%, 15%, and 20%. The study’s findings demonstrate that the incorporation of proteins into the polyurethane system not only preserves but also augments adhesive properties. This enhancement encompasses deeper penetration into wood substrates and an overall improvement in mechanical strength. These results underscore the promising potential of proteins as a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based polyols in adhesive formulations.



2023 Excellence in Thermoset Polymer Research Award Winners

The Thermoset Resin Formulators Association (TRFA) is pleased to announce the winners of the 12th Annual Excellence in Thermoset Polymer Research Award Competition.

2023 Grand Prize Winner

 Nicole Tratnik, University of Toronto
"Recyclable, self-strengthening starch-based epoxy vitrimer facilitated by exchangeable disulfide bonds"

Epoxy vitrimers have emerged as a new class of self-healing, recyclable, and reprocessable materials, offering new opportunities to traditional epoxy thermosets by improving life-span, while providing additional functionalities. Nevertheless, retaining 100% of the original mechanical performances remains difficult for vitrimers after several reprocessing cycles due to progressive changes in the vitrimer networks during rearrangements. In this study, we designed a novel epoxy vitrimer with a higher renewable content compared to conventional epoxies by using renewable materials. The bio-based epoxy vitrimer was synthesized from epoxidized starch amylopectin together with diallyl disulfide, that is naturally found in garlic, and a thiol (pentaerythritol tetrakis(3-mercaptopropionate) (PETMP)). Diallyl disulfide and PETMP enabled the formation of a recyclable, and reprocesseable, vitrimer network. The epoxy vitrimer displayed unprecedented self-strengthening after 5 recycling cycles (tensile strength increased over 900%) caused by the mechanically-induced homogenization of the diallyl disulfide/thiol and the starch epoxy phases during the recycling process, thereby increasing the vitrimer cross-linking density during reformation. Reprocessing the vitrimer 5-times improved the mechanical and thermal properties, raising glass transition temperature, Young’s modulus, and tensile strength from 7°C to 25°C, 2.98MPa to 268MPa, and 1.87MPa to 18.47MPa, respectively. Hence, capitalizing on mechanically-induced phase homogenization during the vitrimer reprocessing, this work introduces a strategy for the design of self-strengthening bio-based and recyclable thermosets.
2023 Honorable Mention
Lindsay Robinson, University of California, Santa Barbara

"Neighboring Group Participation in Ionic Covalent Adaptable Networks"

Covalent adaptable networks (CANs) typically require external catalysts for efficient crosslinker exchange, which can limit network reprocessability due to catalyst leaching and degradation. In this study, catalysts were avoided by using a bicyclo[3.3.1]nonane (BCN) bis-alkyl halide cross-linker with sulfur- atom neighboring group participation (NGP) to increase the rate of bond exchange. Stress relaxation analyses demonstrate that the resultant pyridine-based network has an Arrhenius dependence on viscous flow at elevated temperatures (130–170 °C), which arises from SN1 transalkylation exchange. This thermally mediated crosslink interchange and associated flow behavior enabled reprocessing of the ionic networks over multiple damage and repair cycles. Additionally, these NGP-based CANs are chemically recyclable, allowing for recovery of the pyridyl-based polymer starting material, which comprises > 90 wt% of the parent network. The dual thermal and chemical recycling potential of this catalyst-free CAN platform addresses key criteria for designing thermosets with extended lifecycles.


2022 Excellence in Thermoset Polymer Research Award Winners

The Thermoset Resin Formulators Association (TRFA) is pleased to announce the winners of the 11th Annual Excellence in Thermoset Polymer Research Award Competition.

2022 Grand Prize Winner

 Moretza Ziaee, Colorado State University 
"Additive Manufacturing of Thermosetting Polymers and Composites with Tunable Functional Properties via Frontal Polymerization"

Thermoset polymers and their composites have been traditionally used in many applications due to their good combination of mechanical properties, thermal stability, and chemical resistance. Adoption of thermosetting materials in additive manufacturing (AM) for rapid creation of prototypes or development of parts with complex geometries, however, has been limited by the long and energy-intensive curing processes often required for curing the monomer. Here, we present a novel AM technique to address the existing limitations with thermoset printing and manufacture thermoset parts with various functional properties. In our approach, we use direct ink writing (DIW) technique to controllably deposit a thermosensitive ink based on dicyclopentadiene and simultaneously cure and solidify the ink after it exits the printing nozzle via frontal polymerization. As a result, we can create freeform structures with no post-cure step, which is
difficult or impossible to achieve using other printing techniques. We also tailor the functional properties of the printed parts by controlling the composition, reactivity, and rheological properties of the inks. As a result, we can print thermoset parts with tunable mechanical properties from stretchable, elastomeric parts to stiff polymers to fiber-reinforced polymer composites and also 3D print foams with various densities and mechanical properties.

2022 Honorable Mention

 Alyssa Necaise, University of Southern Mississippi
"Layered Epoxide-Amine/Boron Nitride/Graphene Nanocomposites for Enhanced Multifunctional Shielding"

The rapid development of high-power electromagnetic wave sources in the modern era has the ability to interfere with aircraft electronics. Multifunctional nanoparticles have been used in aerospace grade matrices to combat this issue; however, little research has been conducted in multilayer orientations combining thermally and electrically conductive
species. Epoxide-amine matrices with electrically/thermally conductive nanoplateletswere prepared using tetragylcidal  4,4’-diamindodiphenylmethane (TGDDM), 4,4’- diaminodiphenylsulphone (DDS), and SU-8, an octa-functional cross-linking agent. Hexagonal boron nitride and graphene nanoplatelets were used as functional particles.
Multilayer thin film laminates were prepared. The dispersion, layer orientation, rheological properties, and electrical/thermal conductivity of the multifunctional systems were measured using parallel plate rheometry, SEM, optical microscopy, TGA, and 4-point probe electrical conductivity test analyses. FT-IR analysis was also conducted to quantify
the matrix advancement throughout the cure profile. The data collected indicated that incorporation of the functional platelets increases the viscosity of the system while improving the electrical conductivity and inherent shielding abilities of the polymer matrix.


2020 Excellence in Thermoset Polymer Research Award Winners

The Thermoset Resin Formulators Association (TRFA) is pleased to announce the winners of the 10th Annual Excellence in Thermoset Polymer Research Award Competition.

2020 Grand Prize Winner
Daylan Sheppard, Northwestern University
“Recycling Cross-Linked Polyurethane Foam using Twin Screw Extrusion”
2020 Honorable Mentions
Mengfei Huang, University of Massachusetts Amherst
“Synthesis of High-Performance UV-Curable Crosslinked Coating Films via Grafting of HEMA Functionalized Methylene Malonate”
Cheng Zhang, The University of Akron
“Renewable thermoset polyurethanes dispersions from bio-based isocyanate”


2019 Excellence in Thermoset Polymer Research Award Winners

The Thermoset Resin Formulators Association (TRFA) is pleased to announce the winners of the 9th Annual Excellence in Thermoset Polymer Research Award Competition.

2019 Grand Prize Winner
Jian Gao, Drexel University
"Highly Ductile Epoxy Systems Obtained by Network Topology Modification Using Partially Reacted Substructures"
2019 Honorable Mentions
Hamidreza Asemani, Eastern Michigan University
“Design and Evaluation of High-Performance Hybrid Thermoset Coatings using Multi-Functional Non-Isocyanate Polyurethanes”
Brendan R. Ondra, University of Massachusetts Amherst
“Formulation Effects on the Physical Aging Behavior of Epoxy-Based Glassy Thermosets”