Meet Justin Kennemur
Long before taking second place at this Spring’s Graduate Student Research Symposium in the Mathematics and Physical Sciences category for his poster presentation on “Selective Optical Rotations of +359° to -359° from a Single Molecule: A Polycarbodiimide Tunable Polarizer,” Justin G. Kennemur began his journey as a chemist.
During freshman year at Radford University in Virginia, Kennemur rethought his architecture major with guidance from his chemistry professors and mentors, Dr. Cindy Burkhardt and Dr. Francis Webster. Four years later, he had earned a bachelor’s in chemistry from the institution and accepted a chemist position at Polymer Solutions Inc. He is now a doctoral candidate in chemistry at NC State.
“In the summer of 2005, I left for Raleigh to achieve my goals of becoming a Ph.D. chemist,” Kennemur said, thanking his professors at Radford University and colleagues at Polymer Solutions Inc.,“because I fully believe they were instrumental in helping me get to where I am today.”
According to Kennemur, the decision to attend NC State for graduate school was easier because of the chemistry faculty and opportunities the Research Triangle Park area offered.
“I also knew that I wanted to work in polymer chemistry and found that the research in Dr. Bruce Novak’s group was a perfect fit for my incoming skills and, in addition, would give me valuable experience in other areas that I sought to become more proficient in,” he said.
Kennemur’s research with polarization stems from the same concept as tinted sunglasses and automobile windows but on a much smaller scale – molecules. Being slightly different than polarized eyewear which only allows light through when propagated along specific planes, polarization with these molecules actually “adjusts the plane on which light is propagating”.
“To our knowledge, these polymers are the first ever reported single molecule systems that can reversibly polarize light in all or most directions by simply adjusting the temperature and/or solvent in which the polymer is dissolved,” he said.
In fact, the conformational changes the polymers undergo require relatively low amounts of energy, rendering these polycarbodiimides “insanely dynamic.”
“My joy in this research is directly involved with this synthetic variety which can potentially translate into creating these polymers for any number of specific purposes,” Kennemur said. “It has continually amazed me how much the properties of these polymers change as a result of very small differences in the composition of the monomer precursors.”
While Kennemur has spent countless hours working with polymer polarization in his windowless lab, he said he doesn’t forget to occasionally take time to enjoy the outdoors.
“I really enjoy getting out into the air and playing some golf or maybe just cooking out,” he said. “If the weather stinks then video games are also a fun escape for me.”
According to Kennemur, this time allows him to refuel and improves his productivity.
He suggests to fellow graduate students: “Take it all in stride, work hard and consistently, but every once in a while be sure to take a little bit of time for yourself and get some sun on your face.”
Just as it has helped Kennemur through the “marathon” of graduate studies, he said he could sum up his advice in one word – patience.
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