Investigating a Replacement for Oil-Based Plastics and Taking Computer Simulations to the Next Level are Focus of 2021 AMIC Seed Projects

Rui Liu, a postdoc in Dr. Paul Evans' lab at UW-Madison was one of two awardees of AMIC Seed funding for 2021.

Understanding how the crystal structure of a new polyester material affects its usefulness as a replacement for a common oil-based plastic will be the focus of a new research project recently selected for funding. A second project selected in this round will develop never-before-accomplished 3D simulations of an optical materials characterization technique known as random lasing. Both of these projects have been selected for funding in 2021 by the University of Wisconsin Advanced Materials Industrial Consortium (AMIC) as part of the organization’s seed program and will be supported with in-kind contributions from partnering companies.

The projects will be managed by graduate students and post-doctoral researchers (postdocs) from the University of Wisconsin. AMIC Seed projects are conducted by a single or a small team of UW–Madison graduate students and/or postdocs who are advised by a faculty member. For these students and postdocs, the goal of the AMIC Seed program is to provide experience working with an industrial partner on a project, from defining the problem and creating a proposal to meeting project milestones, managing a budget, and creating reports.

“The AMIC seeds are a great opportunity to build connections between university research and industrial use and they are a great learning experience for our students – especially students interested in a career in industrial research and development,” said Dr. Paul Voyles, MRSEC Director and Beckwith-Bascom Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “We appreciate the support from AMIC for these projects and the time and energy that the engineers at the partner companies put into the students’ success.”

The project leader for the first project, Rui Liu, is a postdoc in Dr. Paul Evans’ lab in the UW Materials Science and Engineering Department. His seed project will strive to fill a gap in the understanding of an important new green material known as PEF, or Poly(ethylene-2,5-furanoate). PEF is a renewable resource that can be synthesized from sugars, which have both economic and environmental benefits. With better gas barrier properties, the polyester, PEF, is a good alternative for PET, or poly(ethylene terephthalate) in flexible packaging applications. Liu will be collaborating with Jesse Feng and Kevin Nelson, two engineers from Amcor, a Wisconsin packaging and container manufacturer. It is known that the orientation of molecules within PEF can improve various properties of the material. However, the impact of orientation on crystal structure and barrier properties is not well understood. The project will strive to document the relationship between crystalline structure and gas barrier properties in PEF films.

Brandon Hacha, a graduate student in Dr. Randall Goldsmith’s group in the Chemistry Department, will collaborate with Momchil Minkov, a scientist at Madison-based Flexcompute, Inc. throughout his project. The project will attempt to develop a platform capable of quickly simulating 3D random lasing, which is currently not possible with commercial software. The jump from simulating 2D processes to three dimensions requires an exponential leap in computing power, something Flexcompute’s platform is able to deliver for this project. Successful completion of this project will advance the ability to quickly simulate 3D random lasing and characterize 3D random lasing in real materials.

“Random lasing from a material is largely a result of how that material scatters light,” says Hacha. “There is interest in developing new materials, such as laser barcodes with unique optical spectra, but there is also interest in using random lasing to study the scattering properties of existing materials.”

The AMIC Seed Program provides companies a rare opportunity to explore scientific questions while building collaborative relationships with promising young scientists and engineers. The proposal ideas originated with AMIC member companies, who submitted research topics of interest. These ideas were then developed into proposals by students and postdocs working in collaboration with the companies’ own scientists and engineers.


The University of Wisconsin Advanced Materials Industrial Consortium (AMIC) is a group of industrial and academic members created to leverage the broad spectrum of materials science resources and capabilities found in both the university as well as corporate settings throughout the region. AMIC does this by promoting synergies between materials researchers and technologists, facilitating access to personnel and infrastructure, enhancing student experiences with industry for professional development, and facilitating recruitment of a strong and diverse regional network of industry-based materials researchers. The UW AMIC is led by the Wisconsin Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC).