Lab space + creativity:

The two requirements to cultivate great science and great scientists. Accompany us on a journey to uncover new chemical function and understand the complexities of biological interactions through polymer chemistry.


Dr. Aaron Teator wins the paper of the year competition, breaking Sally's winning streak

Dr. Aaron Teator won the second annual Leibfarth group Paper of the Year competition for his presentation on the paper "Crystal Structure Determination of the Pentagonal-Pyramidal Hexamethylbenzene Dication" (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2017, 56, 368). The competition was hotly contested, with six excellent presentations splitting votes. For his efforts, Aaron received the highly coveted "Curios [sic] Henry: Limited Edition 1996" award. He has promised not to break it (unlike previous winners of the award). On another note, this marked Sally's first loss in any group competition. She has vowed to reassert her dominant performance during the Summer 2018 Method of the Year challenge. The week concluded with the group Christmas party and gift exchange. Luckily Frank was able to secure the Voodoo doll and ensure no black magic will plague him in the coming year.


Frank was honored during Homecoming weekend at the University of South Dakota with the Emerging Leader Award from the USD Alumni Association. The recognition  honors an alum who has graduated within the last ten years that best exemplifies leadership in public service or professional accomplishments. The award recognized Frank's achievements throughout his young scientific career. A large group of family and friends were on hand for the event, making it a particularly special reunion.

Three of Frank's mentors and friends helped make a video commemerating the event. The weekend was even more exciting because the Coyotes defeated Youngstown State by kicking a field goal as time expired. Frank, being a former USD kicker, was especially thrilled.

The Leibfarth group receives funding from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research!

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Professor Leibfarth is one of 43 scientists and engineers from 37 research institutions and small businesses who has been selected to receive an award from the Air Force's Young Investigator Research Program, YIP. The Air Force Office of Scientific Research has announced it will award approximately $19.1 million in grants to those who submitted winning research proposals. Frank will receive the grant over a 3-year period totaling $450,000.

The YIP is open to scientists and engineers at research institutions across the United States who received Ph.D. or equivalent degrees in the last five years and who show exceptional ability and promise for conducting basic research.

The objective of this program is to foster creative basic research in science and engineering, enhance early career development of outstanding young investigators, and increase opportunities for the young investigators to recognize the Air Force mission and the related challenges in science and engineering.

Press Release highlighting Leibfarth Group work with UNC Wonder Connection

An article highlighting our group's work at the UNC Maker Space was released. The article highlighted Marcus Reis, a second year graduate student in the group, and his work with Ollie making a hydraulic powered robotic arm. Marcus and Ollie met through UNC Wonder Connection and Ollie has been visiting the lab each week during the summer to complete the project. Marcus and Ollie took advantage of the 3D printing and laser cutting facilities in the UNC Maker Space for their final prototype.

Marcus and Ollie plan to make their project into a "kit" that other UNC Wonder Connection volunteers can use to build simple robots with patients at the UNC Children's hospital. This work is part of the Leibfarth Group's partnership with UNC Wonder Connection, a non-profit, one-of-a-kind program that provides pediatric patients with a connection to the natural world via hands-on natural science activities. .  

Leibfarth Group Coordinates Event with the UNC Wonder Connection

The Leibfarth group recently organized and put on a scientific outreach event at the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill. The group, in partnership with the UNC Wonder Connection, set up three hands-on science demonstrations to educate and excite children and parents alike about chemistry and polymer science. The UNC Wonder Connection is an organization run through the UNC Botanical Garden with a mission to empower pediatric patients with the wonders of nature and science through multi-sensory learning experiences that promote joy and well-being. More information can be found here. Our groups seeks to both complement their existing efforts and help expand their organizational scope to include chemistry- and polymer-specific programing.

The group is excited to continue working with patients and the Wonder Connection through a combination of individualized and large-group engagements. We seek to engage and empower pediatric patients by unlocking their scientific creativity, increasing their scientific knowledge, and acting as an inspiration for their futures.

Professor Frank Leibfarth, a recent addition to our faculty, is the recipient of the 2017 3M Non-tenured Faculty Award.

The award recognizes outstanding new faculty, nominated by 3M researchers and selected based on their research, experience, and academic leadership. The award encourages the pursuit of new ideas among young faculty and gives them an opportunity to interact with their peers and 3M scientists at the annual 3M Faculty Appreciation Day.

Professor Leibfarth received the award for his proposal entitled “Biorenewable Fluorine-Containing Polymers.” In addition to the honor, the award provides $15,000 per year for three years to support research efforts. The purpose of the award is to help young faculty achieve tenure, remain in their teaching position, and conduct research. This award is administered by 3M’s Research and Development Community in partnership with 3Mgives.

Group Christmas Party & Paper of the Year Competition

The group had their first annual "Paper of the Year" competition & Christmas Party. After 5 entertaining presentations and a contentious vote, Sally Lewis won the competition by convincing the attendees that "A bacterium that degrades and assimilates poly(ethylene terephthalate)" was the paper of the year. For her efforts, Sally received the highly coveted "Curios [sic] Henry: Limited Edition 1996" award. After the competition, the group ate, drank, played games, & had a fitting send off to an exciting 1st semester. 

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When the UNC public relations department was brainstorming stories for their back-to-school media, they ran across one of Frank's tweets about his first delivery to the lab. While they usually focus on students coming back-to-school, they realized that few undergraduates on campus realize that a new crop of faculty is also moving in!

The team stopped by the lab numerous times through the summer as things were getting started and they documented the process quite accurately in the following story and accompanying photoessay. We've come a long way AND we are just getting started. Exciting times!

Frank is absolutely ecstatic to announce that he will join the UNC Department of Chemistry as an Assistant Professor. UNC has a strong tradition as a premier institution of higher education and the reputation and bright future of the Chemistry Department is an ideal infrastructure for a young scientist. Frank is excited to set up his new lab and work with the many great students and colleagues within the UNC community. Research in the Leibfarth group will focus on polymer science, spanning each stage from molecular design and synthesis to material function. The program will provide students with a diverse and competitive skill set bridging organic and polymer synthesis, small molecule and macromolecule characterization, and applied studies in materials science and biotechnology.

Frank wins the RSC Best Poster Prize at the Continuous Flow Chemistry Zing Conference!

Frank's poster, entitled "Flow IEG: Scalable Synthesis of Sequence and Architecturally Defined, Unimolecular Macromolecules," won the RSC best poster prize the the Continuous Flow Chemistry Zing Conference held in Alburfeira, Portugal. The speakers at this biannual conference was outstanding and Frank was humbled to be honored by such an excellent group of scientists.   

Watch Frank's TEDxUSD lecture now on YouTube

Frank TEDx lecture entitled "Rise of the Machines: How automated polymer synthesis will accelerate the pace of scientific discovery" at the TEDxUSD event was held on Saturday, Nov. 7th at the University of South Dakota's historic Farber Hall. Listen to Frank describe his research at MIT on automated polymer synthesis.

Alex Albanese interviewed Frank for the first episode of his new podcast; Glimpse is a podcast created and produced by Alex where he seeks to learn about the research going on at MIT by speaking to postdocs on the "front lines." In this episode, Alex and I discuss the power of ketenes, polymers,  and continuous flow chemistry. We also talk about the crucial difference between table salt and sodium hydroxide (hint: I learned this the hard way as an undergraduate researcher). Alex is a postdoc working in the Laboratory for Multiscale Regenerative Technologies in the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research for Professor Sangeeta Bhatia. Subscribe to Glimpse to learn more about the research going on at MIT and listen to my episode here: link.  

Chemical & Engineering News highlights Frank's paper

Frank's recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA [Scalable synthesis of sequence-defined, unimolecular macromolecules] has been highlighted in a full page article in the August 24th edition of Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly magazine published by the American Chemical Society. The article, written by Stu Borman, contains quotations from preeminent polymer scientists Prof. Craig J. Hawker and Prof. Jean-Francois Lutz

Frank's paper on continuous flow systems for polymer synthesis published

The manuscript describing Frank's postdoctoral research has recently appeared online. The paper, entitled "Scalable synthesis of sequence-defined, unimolecular macromolecules" is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

The paper describes our work to expedite polymerization processes empowered by the convergence of multi-step continuous flow chemistry and iterative exponential growth (Flow-IEG).  The user-friendly nature, scalability, and modularity of Flow-IEG provides a general strategy for the automated synthesis of sequence and architecturally defined, uniform macromolecules. We envision this polymer synthesis machine will serve as an enabling tool for both fundamental explorations and advanced applications in biotechnology, medicinal chemistry, and materials science.