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Dozens of students walk on a path on the drillfield during the daytime.

National Graduate Research Polymer Conference returns to Blacksburg

Editor's Note: Due to COVID-19, the conference was postponed to 2021. 

Virginia Tech has been named the host of the 2020 National Graduate Research Polymer Conference (NGRPC) sponsored by the American Chemical Society’s Division of Polymer Chemistry.

Blacksburg last hosted the biennial conference in 1996. The NGRPC is one of the largest polymer student conferences in the country.

An organizing committee of 10 graduate students within the Macromolecules Innovation Institute (MII) initiated and led the effort to create the proposal for hosting the conference. The committee chairs are Philip Scott, Emily Wilts, Priya Venkatraman, and Bradley Sutliff, all of whom are Macromolecular Science and Engineering (MACR) Ph.D. students.

“Our proposal is about building intersections in polymer science,” Scott said. “To that end, we’re taking a conference that has historically been heavily polymer chemistry and trying to use what’s available at Virginia Tech to broaden that out to include all of polymer science and engineering.”

With 70 affiliated faculty in seven colleges across Virginia Tech, MII and the MACR program are strongly committed to interdisciplinary work in the polymer field.

“Virginia Tech stands as a fantastic example for how to lead in interdisciplinary research,” Scott said. “We have a lot to offer other schools in the effort to connect the different corners of polymer research.”

The logo fo the National Graduate Research Polymer Conference. The text is in maroon with a large 2 and 0 on top, standing for 20. Inside the 0 is an orange and maroon graphic version of Burruss Hall.

The Virginia Tech NGRPC organizing committee is planning to hold the three-day conference in May 2020. It’s expecting several hundred graduate students from across the country to attend. In addition to budgeting, outreach, and other practical considerations in the proposal, the committee also included their vision of the themes for this conference.

“We’re really excited to be able to put on a conference by graduate students for graduate students,” Wilts said. “We’re really trying to get across that theme of interdisciplinary across all sciences and engineering and how we relate in the middle with polymers.”

Venkatraman said in addition to MII and MACR, she wants attendees to see everything Blacksburg has to offer, from the campus to the Hokie Spirit.

“It’s awesome that we get to invite people to come here and see what we do,” Venkatraman said. “What we put out is all of the work the students, faculty, and staff do to put together this institute and program.”

Robert Moore, Professor of Chemistry and the Director of the MACR Program, has previously sat on the committee that approves these proposals. Moore said in his experience he saw many faculty-led submissions, but the student-led effort in the Virginia Tech proposal was probably a key factor for winning the 2020 proposal.  

“Our students at Virginia Tech are working tremendously hard to build recognition as leaders in the polymer community, and we (the faculty) are so proud of their accomplishment,” Moore said. “It is with great confidence in our students that we are now looking forward to a tremendous conference that will continue to bring profound distinction to our program.”