Research Abroad


By: David Schiraldi
Peter A. Asseff, Ph.D. Professor of Organic Chemistry
in the Case School of Engineering and 
Chair Department of Macromolecular Science & Engineering
at Case Western Reserve University


As summer approaches, for many of us in higher education our thoughts turn to how to spend this stretch of time away from classes. For the past seven years, a number of students majoring or minoring in Polymer Science and Engineering at Case Western Reserve University have spent their time carrying out cutting-edge research in another country. The program began as an outgrowth of a sabbatical I took in Spain. Now, we take advantage of the department’s faculty contacts in Spain, Switzerland, France, Germany, China and Japan. Interested students start the process typically two years in advance and begin two years of the appropriate language courses before the trip.

At a recent Engineers Week Banquet, an engineering alumna shared with me how the summer abroad changed her life. These international assignments are treated as a supplement to the Macro Department’s Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates program, which has been funded for the past decade by National Science Foundation grants, as well as by the NSF Center for Layered Polymeric Systems Science & Technology Center known as CLiPS. When we fell short on funding in 2014, recent alumni including graduate students responded to an appeal on the department’s Facebook page.

Last summer, three undergraduates worked in Barcelona, Spain, two in Fribourg, Switzerland, and one in Kyoto, Japan. One of the research projects produced a variety of polyethylene glycol-modified methacrylate copolymers with the potential for self-healing behavior and drug delivery. Another students’ project contributed to results in using enzymes to produce polymers without the need for expensive and potentially less dangerous metal catalysts. And yet another focused on the physical micro-foaming of polymer-fiber glass blends using the MuCell process, which combines a supercritical fluid mixed with a polymer melt to product low density molded products.

For student Will Brenn, the experience of investigating the morphologies and degradation behaviors of anisotropic nanoparticles and block copolymers at the Adolphe Merkle Institute in Fribourg led to a greater appreciation for many of the cultures present in Europe.

“This phenomenal opportunity allowed me to further the development of my French language skills by interacting with native speakers on a daily basis. Additionally, working in a lab with such a diverse group of people from so many different countries has given me a broader perspective of the world and helped prepare me for a career in a rapidly globalized world,” he said.










Macromolecular student Susan Kozawa,
in the lab of Professors Takaya Terashima and
itsuo Sawamoto at Kyoto University in Japan, 
during her research abroad assignment.