Prof. Sanat Kumar Wins APS Polymer Physics Prize

Pioneering chemical engineer awarded the highest honor in polymer physics

Oct 15 2021 | By Holly Evarts
Sanat Kumar

Sanat Kumar, Bykhovsky Professor of Chemical Engineering.

Sanat Kumar, Bykhovsky Professor of Chemical Engineering, has been awarded the Polymer Physics Prize of the American Physical Society (APS), for his “fundamental experimental, simulation, and theoretical contributions to understanding structure, assembly, and dynamics in polymer nanocomposites and thin films.” Established in 1960 to recognize outstanding accomplishment and excellence of contributions in polymer physics research, the Polymer Physics Prize is the most prestigious honor in this field; previous winners include three Nobel Prize laureates.

Kumar is a pioneer in experimental, computational, and theoretical studies of soft condensed matter systems, especially synthetic polymer materials. His work has reshaped the way researchers think about polymers, particularly in confined geometries. In his lab, he creates, analyzes, and models new classes of polymer-based hybrid materials with improved properties in compelling applications. Foundational discoveries have focused on controlling inorganic nanoparticle assembly in organic polymers--a holy grail in this field. Driven by these discoveries he has considered hybrid constructs for use in structural applications such as in ultra-strong building materials (with these constructs being inspired by nacre, the inside coating of an oyster shell), in gas separations (relevant to carbon capture and sequestration), ionic separations (relevant for batteries), and water desalination. His very recent interests are on the upcycling of polymers with the goal of mitigating the explosion of microplastic waste in the environment.

Kumar is the leading researcher in the field of polymer nanocomposites. His studies have broken many boundaries in this research area and have changed the way scientists and engineers think about these systems.

Mary C. Boyce
Provost

“Kumar is the leading researcher in the field of polymer nanocomposites and we are thrilled that he has received this great honor,” said Columbia Provost Mary C. Boyce. “His studies of the dispersion and self-assembly of nanoparticles in a polymer matrix, the transport properties and dynamics of these systems, and the effect of grafting polymers to these particles have broken many boundaries in this research area and have changed the way scientists and engineers think about these systems.”

Kumar’s earlier work on polymer thin films include several firsts, including the first computer simulations of confined polymers, and the first experiment to determine polymer conformations in thin films. He has worked on a broad set of polymer problems, including the structure and thermodynamics of polymer blends, computer simulation methods for polymers, neutron scattering methods for polymers, polymers in supercritical fluids, polymers in thin films, crystalline/amorphous blends, protein stability and crystallization, and polymer nanocomposites.

Sanat Kumar, Bykhovsky Professor of Chemical Engineering, has been awarded the Polymer Physics Prize of the American Physical Society (APS), for his “fundamental experimental, simulation, and theoretical contributions to understanding structure, assembly, and dynamics in polymer nanocomposites and thin films.”

Kumar received a BTech in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, in 1981 and SM and ScD degrees in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1984 and 1987, respectively. He joined the faculty of Columbia Engineering in 2006 and was chair of the department of chemical engineering from 2010 to 2016. During this time, the department grew substantially both in size and in its national rankings. Since 2020, Kumar has also held a joint appointment as a senior scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratories, Upton, NY. He has co-authored more than 280 publications, with 23 papers cited more than 200 times.