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Engineering professor Ralm Ricarte receives NSF CAREER Award

Story by
Trisha Radulovich
biomedical engineering faculty member ralm ricarte
Ralm Ricarte, chemical and biomedical engineering faculty member at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. (M Wallheiser/FAMU-FSU Engineering)

Ralm Ricarte, assistant professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering and Florida State University, has been honored with a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in recognition of his work on; “Vitrimer gels as a platform for homogenous and meso/nanostructured networks” .

The potential applications of his work include energy storage, separations, medicine, consumer products and advanced performance materials. 

“We are extremely pleased that the NSF has recognized Dr. Ricarte with this prestigious honor. His creative approach will lead to the development of advanced polymeric materials for chemical and biomedical applications and his plan for enhancing STEM education will provide opportunities for students from high school through graduate school,” Bruce Locke, professor and department chair of chemical and biomedical engineering at the college, said.

A vitrimer is a new type of polymer that is insoluble yet still flows at high temperatures. Its qualities enables the polymer to be mechanically robust, chemically resistant and recyclable. Ricarte wants to understand how the addition of liquid solvent to the vitrimer network affects its fundamental structure-property relationships. 

Ricarte hypothesizes that vitrimer gels can assemble into complex nanostructures that make them adaptable to various stimuli. The gel is expected to have minimal structural defects and be able to switch properties on command. 

By understanding how structural parameters affect the behavior of the material, the gels will be developed into technology used to create safer batteries. They will also be used to improve separations membranes and catalyst scaffolds.

“We want to determine the molecular design principles of vitrimer gels,” Ricarte said. “By optimizing the interaction of the polymer and solvent, we hope to unlock a new generation of temperature responsive polymer materials with adaptable nanostructures.”

In addition to the research, the grant supports students interested in pursuing STEM. Ricarte will be working with students from a local high school to introduce research opportunities through in-class science experiments and summer research internships. 

“We hope to encourage underrepresented minority high school students to pursue STEM doctoral degrees,” Ricarte explained

The CAREER award is a prestigious award given to early-career faculty with the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education. The $677,644 grant will provide funding for five years to support Ricarte’s research.

Ricarte joined the department in January 2020. His research group investigates the physical properties of novel polymer materials. Prior to joining the college, he served as a Marie Curie and PRESTIGE postdoctoral fellow at ESPCI Paris. He received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities.

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