“Being able to work in UT and ORNL simultaneously is a game changer for my research,” Bingrui Li said.
Li is pursuing a doctorate through University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute Bredesen Center’s Energy Science and Engineering program. He is working on the development and application of self-healing polymers, materials that could one day be used to protect the appearance of everyday items prone to being marred by scratches—from your car’s paint to the back of your cell phone.
Self-healing polymers also could be integrated with other functions, such as inside a battery part, where their self-healing abilities could ensure longer and better performance of a vehicle or a piece of machinery.
“We targeted sealants which we typically used for sealing the gap between the window frame and glass,” he said. Combining the commercial sealant and their self-healing polymer, they created a rubber-like sealant that had healable properties but didn’t lose any of its adhesion or other properties. “Given the exceptional performance of our composites and their potential to be commercialized, we won the award.”
Li was part of a team that won an R&D 100 award in 2021 for its work on self-healing polymers. He said he appreciates having access to world-class experts in a variety of fields and state-of-the-art equipment through UT-ORII’s joint UT-ORNL graduate program. He hopes to work in academia and continue doing research.
Li, whose aunt is a polymer physicist, has a bachelor’s degree in polymer chemistry engineering from Jilin University in his native China and a master’s degree in polymer plastics engineering from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. He was a research associate at ORNL for two years before beginning his PhD studies.
“I’ve always anticipated that one day I could develop some materials that could benefit the society,” he said.
When he’s not working, he enjoys traveling, hiking, watching movies and cooking.