Dr. Tim Long is Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Macromolecules Innovation Institute at Virginia Tech. He was awarded his B.S. in Chemistry from St. Bonaventure University and his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Virginia Tech. Prior to joining the faculty at Virginia Tech, Tim worked as an Advanced Research Scientist and subsequently a Senior Research Scientist at Eastman Kodak Company, an Advanced Technical Program Research supported by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and a Principal Research Chemist with Eastman Chemical Company. Tim has received numerous awards and honors over the course of his career, including the Virginia Outstanding Scientist of the Year Award, the Robert L. Patrick Fellowship Award, the ACS POLY Mark Scholar Award, the Carl Dahlquist Award from the Pressure Sensitive Tape Council, the American Chemical Society Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering (PMSE) Cooperative Research Award, the Virginia Tech Alumni Award for Research Excellence, the Collano Innovation Award, the Interdisciplinary Research Team Fellowship Award, the Faculty Research Award from the Virginia Tech Department of Chemistry, the IBM Faculty Award, and the 3M Company Faculty Award. Tim has also been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Fellow of the American Chemical Society, and a Fellow of the American Chemical Society Polymer Division. In our interview, Tim shares more about his life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science (3:03)
In his job, Tim spends a lot of time in his office, in front of computers, in the lab, and inside at conferences, so he likes to spend his free time outside. There are beautiful mountains near his home in Virginia, and Tim has fun hiking, mountain biking, and enjoying nature with his family.
The Scientific Side (4:08)
Tim’s lab is working on a wide variety of research projects that are focused on novel macromolecular structures to tailor the properties and processing of polymers. His work has applications across many industries, including the development of chemotherapy treatments and electro-active devices important for prosthetics in medicine.
A Dose of Motivation (5:55)
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” -Albert Einstein
“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” – Linus Pauling
What Got You Hooked on Science? (10:13)
During his childhood, Tim loved experimenting with his chemistry kit in their family’s basement. He remembers collecting fingerprints from all of his family members and trying to blow things up next to the washing machine. His curiosity drove him to learn more about the world. In high school, Tim had an exceptional chemistry teacher, and she helped him realize that he wanted to become a scientist. Tim attended a small, liberal arts college, and he enjoyed getting involved in undergraduate research. This prepared him to attend graduate school, where he learned how to do scientific writing, present his research, collaborate with colleagues, and work with people from diverse backgrounds. After finishing his PhD, Tim accepted a position at Eastman Kodak Company to be closer to his family and contribute to their cutting edge research. After years working in industry, Tim returned to Virginia Tech to do academic research in chemistry and share his knowledge with the next generation of scientists.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges (19:42)
There are many different struggles in science, but the important thing is to make sure you learn from your failures. Tim has struggled with whether he should move into a new field, deciding whether the field is too crowded, and worrying about whether anyone is interested in research in a field. Sustainability is another topic that is always on Tim’s mind. He does research on plastics and polymers, and it is difficult to listen to all of the stories in the media about the negative impacts of these materials on our planet. Tim’s biggest challenges are to ensure that what he does in the laboratory is sustainable, try to follow the strategies of green chemistry, and engage in responsible discovery. He wants to deliver solutions that won’t have negative impacts on people or our environment.
A Shining Success! (22:37)
One of the greatest joys of being a professor has been training his students. Seeing students come through the lab and go on to change the world has been Tim’s most meaningful success. It has been wonderful to stay in touch, and he was excited when his former graduate students returned recently for a reunion. Listening to their talks and seeing photos of their families reminded Tim that he is very fortunate to be a professor.
Book Recommendations (25:38)
The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James Watson, books by Nora Roberts
Most Treasured Travel (29:42)
Tim went on a trip to Mainz, Germany with 25 undergraduate students as part of a study abroad program. Mainz is a beautiful town, and it is considered the birthplace of his research field. It was amazing to walk around and envision scientists from a hundred years ago coming up with their innovative ideas right on those very streets. Tim was relieved that all of the students made it back from the trip without any major incidents, and he still keeps in contact with many of the students today.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories (27:31)
When Tim was working at Eastman Kodak Company, he shared a lab with another synthetic organic chemist. His colleague loved classical music, but Tim loved listening to rock and roll. They were constantly changing the radio in the lab back and forth between their respective stations, but they were great friends. Back in graduate school, Tim also worked with phenomenal people in the lab. Curiosity drove them to calculate the amount of helium that would be required to lift a small fluorescent glow stick. Once they calculated the anticipated amount, they had to test their hypothesis. They filled a garbage bag with helium, tied a string to a glow stick, and released it outside the lab. Of course all of this happened right as a police car was driving by. Fortunately, they didn’t get in trouble, but watching this floating glow stick was one of his most memorable lab moments.
Advice For Us All (36:12)
Take risks in your career, and follow your passions. Remember that money isn’t everything. If you are passionate, you can be successful and make a meaningful contribution to science. Also, engage society. Scientists should get out in the community and share their work with the public and the press.
Tim’s research group investigates structure-property-morphology-processing relationships of polymers. These range from high performance thermoplastics and thermosets to biologically-derived/inspired macromolecules. In particular, Tim’s research focuses on the effect of noncovalent interactions on polymer properties, including hydrogen bonding and ionic aggregation. The design, performance, and societal implication of novel polymeric materials directs his research platform. He is especially interested in the following technologies: (1) new materials for advanced manufacturing, (2) bio-inspired thermoplastics, (3) adhesive technology, and (4) charged polymers for actuators. Polymers featuring tailored monomer sequences and designs afford microphase separated structures, and they also enhance the performance of adhesives and 3D printing technology. The use of biologically derived monomers, such as urea, afford bio-degradable thermoplastics which release significant levels of ammonia. Alternatively, polymers containing nucleobases afford sequence-controlled adhesives and microphase separated morphologies. 3D printing techniques enable controlled polymer placement, unlocking new architectures and constructs that have never been engineered before. Taking advantage of these techniques allows for the unprecedented processing of polyimides or the development of time-controlled dissolvable poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG)-based constructs. Lastly, structure-property relationship development of high-performance polymers, such as polyesters, polysulfones, and polyimides, offers opportunities to enhance properties, including processing, barrier, stability, and mechanical properties.