Rigoberto “Gobet” Advincula, UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair of Advanced and Nanostructured Materials

Since he was young, Rigoberto “Gobet” Advincula has been intrigued with understanding how things work.

“I was fortunate to go to a special science high school in the Philippines,” said Advincula, the UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair Professor of Advanced and Nanostructured Materials.

He enjoyed learning the science behind the behavior of everyday objects, such as how soap cleans away dirt or why a Styrofoam cup softens but doesn’t melt when it’s heated.

“It’s being able to satisfy my curiosity,” he said. “I’m just fascinated that I can understand how things work.”

That quest for knowledge has made Advincula a leader in the areas of advanced materials, polymers and nanomaterials. An expert in macromolecular science and engineering, organic materials, hybrid materials and ultrathin films, he leads ORNL’s macromolecular nanomaterials group in the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences, which specializes in the conception and design of new materials.

Advincula’s work has many applications—from creating recyclable plastics to developing sensors for improved electronics to creating ultra-thin film coatings that can detect drugs or pollutants, make everyday materials stronger and resistant to rust, stains, mold, or moisture damage.

He employs artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate the discovery process, design better experiments, replicate findings and perform simulations.

Advincula obtained his doctorate in chemistry from the University of Florida. He did post-doctoral work at Stanford University and the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Germany. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of the Philippines.

Before coming to UT, he was on the faculty at Case Western Reserve University, the University of Houston, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He came to UT in 2020 as a joint faculty member at UT and ORNL and was appointed as a Governor’s Chair. The prestigious Governor’s Chair program is led by UT and ORNL’s UT-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute, an organization that oversees and encourages UT-ORNL joint research, education and workforce development efforts.

Working at both institutions has allowed him to wear three hats: scientist, research group leader and mentor to students.

“I’m able to be in touch with the best in the field at ORNL but also develop a pipeline of future scientists,” he said. “Both UT and ORNL are really great institutions. That’s why it is an honor to be a Governor’s Chair Professor.

Advincula holds 15 patents with a few more in the pipeline. He’s published more than 500 papers.

Just last week, Advincula was elected to the National Academy of Inventors’ 2023 Class of Fellows, https://lnkd.in/eRfnchgX. Earlier this year, he was the 2023 winner of the Netzsch North American Thermal Analysis Society (NATAS) Fellows Award. In 2022, he was honored with the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award from his alma mater, the University of the Philippines.

“The citation is that you’ve achieved a pinnacle in your career and contributed a lot to society,” he said.

Advincula is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the oldest official group devoted to chemistry. He’s also a fellow of the American Chemical Society, a Fellow of the Polymer Science and Engineering Division (ACS), a Fellow of the Polymer Chemistry Division (ACS), and a member of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) in the Philippines.

When he’s not working, Advincula enjoys hiking, walking, and enjoying nature. During the pandemic, he planted 35 fruit trees, including peach, pear, fig, apple, plum and apricot.

The joy of harvesting and sharing the produce from his trees is similar to the satisfaction that comes from developing new and better materials and mentoring students.

“It’s rewarding to see the fruit of your labors,” Advincula said.

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