Meet our Editor: Prof. Patrick Théato

Patrick Théato © SpringerCan you tell us what motivated you to specialize in polymer science?

Clearly chemistry was my first love. Early on, I was captivated by the fact that chemistry comes with a big bang and a lot of smoke. It was in middle school that I became fascinated by the art of creating something on a molecular level - even though the concept of “molecular level” did not reveal itself to me during those early days. But the logic behind this art still drives me today.

My motivation to specialize in polymer science arose during an exchange semester at UMass, Amherst. In 1996 to 1997, I was fortunate to study for a semester at the Polymer Science and Engineering Department at UMass. Creating a material and being able to characterize its properties all by myself clearly laid the foundation of my career. This still motivates me today, and I am thankful for having learned about all its facets as an undergraduate student.

If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?

If I wasn’t a scientist, I might be a comedian. And if I had to take a serious job, I might become a programmer and be rich by now. [laughs]

Can you tell us about your recent research projects?

My research group is active in numerous areas. We maintain our interest in several stimuli-responsive polymers. But the challenge of developing new synthetic routes towards molecular precision is also an active part of my group’s work. It represents the “art” of polymer synthesis. Adopting polymer synthesis for applications that require surface modifications is also a very exciting area of study. Recently, we have also been more involved in energy-related topics, such as batteries from polymers or containing active materials from polymers. But as well as energy storage, we have also become fascinated by new energy generation routes. In this area, too, polymers can contribute a lot. If you want to know more, stay tuned or get in touch with me.

Where is this research going in the next 5-10 years? 

Well, the talented people conducting this research now are likely to have a successful career in 5-10 years, and not be in my lab anymore. As for the research topics, I’m sure my group – consisting of new young people by then – will continue many of the projects. And many new topics might be added, if funded. Yet, at the same time, we hope that we can transfer some of our achievements into real products. The chance is there. We will see.

What are your main research goals/aims?

The goal of research at a university is always twofold. On one hand, you want to drive science further and discover the unknown. On the other hand, you want to motivate young students to happily engage in this endeavor called “research”. As for details of my main research goals… have we signed a NDA? [laughs]

© SpringerYou have edited “Multi-Component and Sequential Reactions in Polymer Synthesis” in Advances in Polymer Science Series. What compelled you to edit the book, and how important will this topic be for industry and academia in the next 5-10 years?

My group has been working for years on new and efficient reactions in polymer chemistry. It was fortunate timing that multi-component reactions had reached an enormous momentum in organic chemistry and we were one of a handful of groups worldwide exploring the use of those reactions in polymer chemistry. It rapidly proved extremely useful because of their impressive efficiency. But no compilation summarizing the different activities in this new area was available. This naturally led to the idea of making one of the first literature overviews available. As such, I hope it will remain a starting point for anyone interested to take advantage of these reactions in polymer chemistry, for the next 5-10 years.

Can you tell us about your experiences publishing with us?

Publishing with Springer has been problem free and professional. I really appreciate the constant support from the whole publishing team. However, I have to admit that I was particularly fortunate with the authors that agreed to contribute to the volume. Their punctual, high-quality submissions made my job very easy. Hence, it is them that made publishing a very happy and satisfying job for me.

What are today’s hottest trends/topics in the field of polymer science?
Molecular precision, 3D & 4D printing, smart materials, reactive processing, energy, sustainability, medicine …… take your pick!

What are the challenges that the field of polymer science faces today and what are the opportunities for the future?

Challenges exist on numerous levels. On one level, polymer science as a chemical subdiscipline of natural science continuously faces problems being accepted and supported by society. On a more scientific level, there are also numerous challenges. Clearly on one hand, the aspects of structure-property relationship are as vivid as ever. Synthetic tools have now reached unprecedented precision on the molecular level, allowing for very exact molecular structures, thereby paving the way for perfection in many areas. On the other hand, development of polymer materials that find real applications is another constantly challenging area.

Do you have a favorite Springer book, textbook, and/or journal in your research area?  If so, please tell us why you especially like it.

Springer offers many interesting books. Everyone can find useful resources. I am a big fan of the “Advances in Polymer Science” series, and I am not saying this because I am an Editorial Board member [Laughs]. The volumes 261 and 262 (Hierarchical Macromolecular Structures: 60 Years after the Staudinger Nobel Prize I & II) are very exciting collections that look back in history and forward into the future of polymer chemistry. A pleasure to read!

Patrick Théato is a Professor at the Institute for Technical and Macromolecular Chemistry, University of Hamburg and an Editorial Board Member of Advances in Polymer Science. He is one of the leading scientists in the field of polymer science. He has published more than 200 articles and has an h-index of 46.

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