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Biodegradable Polymer Characterization Laboratory Unit

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Life Sciences and ChE

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.256.1 - 9.256.10



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Paper Authors

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Vyas Harinath

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Pfumai Kuzviwanza

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Jianzhong Lou

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Leonard Uitenham

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session #3613

Biodegradable Polymer Characterization Laboratory Unit Keith A. Schimmel, Jianzhong Lou, Pfumai Kuzviwanza, Arvind Vyas Harinath, Leonard Uitenham North Carolina A&T State University

Abstract A current research area of significant environmental, economic, and scientific importance is biodegradable polymers.1-4 Biodegradable polymers is also an area that has great promise for being used to integrate life science into the chemical engineering curriculum. To this point, however, high quality laboratory manuals on biodegradable polymers have not been developed. Therefore, a laboratory unit titled "Biodegradable Polymer Characterization" has been developed.

The laboratory unit provides a hands-on educational experience to students by exposing a variety of polymer samples (polyvinyl alcohols, polycaprolactones, polylactic acid) to simulated biomass environments and characterizing the samples against the exposure time. Independent variables that students can explore include biodegradation medium (slurry or soil), microorganism species and concentration, moisture content (for soil), temperature, pH, nutrient species and concentrations, polymer surface roughness, and polymer concentration. Analytical methods available include respirometry, melt index, gel-permeation chromatography, tensile strength, and thermogravimetric analysis. Students are able to study the relationship between polymer structure and biodegradation properties. They are challenged to use statistical methods to determine which polymer physical and chemical property measurements best correlate with biodegradability. Through this process, the students develop a vivid understanding of fundamental principles of polymer science, as well as the importance of societal and environmental issues with polymer materials design, manufacturing, and applications. Pedagogy that has been demonstrated to be effective in improving student learning, e.g., cooperative learning, formative assessment and feedback, and reflective writing, is incorporated into the laboratory materials.

I. Introduction Synthetic polymers continue to play an important role in the nation's economy as one of the largest sectors of the chemical industry.5 Application of polymers in biotechnology is experiencing the fastest growth. Large investments by both government and industry in biotechnology are reshaping the career paths for both faculty and graduates of the traditional petrochemical-centered chemical engineering programs. Hiring by traditional petroleum and chemical companies has stagnated for the last two decades, whereas the health care and biotechnology sectors are hiring more chemical engineering graduates. The U. S. Department of Labor projects that the employment of chemical engineers will grow more slowly than the average for all occupations though 2010, and the overall employment in the chemical manufacturing industry is expected to decline. Among manufacturing industries, specialty

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Harinath, V., & Kuzviwanza, P., & Lou, J., & Uitenham, L., & Schimmel, K. (2004, June), Biodegradable Polymer Characterization Laboratory Unit Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--12937

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