Materials expert Rodney Priestley awarded for pioneering contributions to polymer science

Written by
Scott Lyon, Chemical and Biological Engineering
May 8, 2020

The American Chemical Society has honored Rodney Priestley with a 2020 Young Investigator Award, citing his pioneering contributions to polymer science. The ACS will hold a symposium in his honor in August.

As part of the symposium, Priestley, a professor of chemical and biological engineering, will give a lecture detailing the measurement of molecules moving across a glassy surface. His research involves the description and development of complex materials, especially nanoparticles, thin polymer films, and nanocomposites. He has also revealed deep truths about the glass transition, a fundamental material property that has eluded scientists' understanding for decades. Priestley's work is making an impact on a wide range of industries, including drug delivery, personal care and fire protection. His recent interests include the use of polymers in  sustainability and their impact on the environment.

The ACS award, co-sponsored by the journals ACS Macro Letters, Biomacromolecules, and Macromolecules, was one of two of its kind this year. The other was awarded to Keiji Numata of Kyoto University.

In February, Priestley became Princeton's inaugural vice dean for innovation, a role within the Office of the Dean for Research. The newly created position provides campus-wide leadership for the transformation of basic research into entrepreneurial solutions. Priestley has published more than 100 papers and launched two start-up companies based on work from his laboratory. He is an inventor on five patent-pending technologies.

In addition to his research and business ventures, Priestley has become a leading voice in Princeton's effort to diversify science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). In 2019, he spoke at the Thrive: Empowering and Celebrating Princeton's Black Alumni conference on diversifying the STEM fields. He also chaired the Future Faculty Workshop, mentoring students from underrepresented groups who are pursuing careers in academia. One of his goals as vice dean is to provide programming that supports such students as founders of technology companies. He has called diversity "integral to innovation."

Priestley received another Young Investigator Award from ACS in 2009. He won a Presidential Early Career Award in 2013 and was named a Young Global Scientist at the 2018 World Economic Forum, in addition to many other honors. He joined the Princeton faculty in 2009 and was made a full professor in 2019.