I studied chemistry at the University of Glasgow (BSc Hons, 1st class 1982) and subsequently obtained my PhD from the University for studies on the thermal degradation of thermoplastics in the presence of metal-ion complexes, supervised by Dr Ian McNeill.
Following post-doctoral research on permo-selective polymer membranes at Heriot-Watt University with Dr Jim Cameron and Dr Ian Soutar, I spent six years with ICI (subsequently Zeneca) at Wilton and Billingham on Teesside where I studied the melt processability of high temperature thermoplastics such as PEEK and PPS, and the biodegradable polymer BIOPOL, with a particular interest in crystallisation behaviour and plasticisation.
In 1994, I joined the University of Strathclyde where I am now Reader in Physical Chemistry. My research group has a major research interests across a wide spectrum of polymer chemistry, physics and technology, including adhesion, crystallisation behaviour, physical ageing, nanocomposite technology and polymer processing. One major focus is the elucidation of the mechanistic organic chemistry of polymer degradation processes, particularly in relationship to polymer durability, processing and fire response. Although a mature field, polymer degradation science is undergoing something of a renaissance, with the field being driven forward by issues such as waste polymer recycling, the need for new biodegradable polymers to meet biomedical applications or to address environmental issues, and the requirement for a new generation of fire-retarded polymers avoiding the use of toxic additives.
Current projects include investigations on the dielectric breakdown of PET used for photovoltaic devices, the use of surface chemical techniques for characterizing photo-oxidation chemistry of polymers, the development of novel polyurethane adhesives for polymer laminates and the influence of intrinsic cross-linking chemistry on the flammability of ring-substituted polystyrene. We’ve even made better kitchen sinks! Most of these projects involve an industrial partner, and my group prides itself on its industrial focus, and particularly its long term relationship with SME's such as Taylor Bowls through the Knowledge Transfer Partnership scheme.
A major analytical tool in the group is Thermal Volatilisation Analysis (TVA) a versatile, yet nowadays little known, technique capable of analysing (in real time) the evolution of volatile species from an analyte, cryogenically collecting evolved volatiles and characterising the individual components by mass spectrometry. In our most recent work TVA has been re-visited, updated and re-applied to new applications and now has become an indispensable tool for the study of various aspects of volatiles evolution analysis and characterisation, particularly in relation to our work on polymer flammability.
Recognising the value of synergistic partnerships, I work closely with colleagues across the University for example with Dr Simon Shilton (Chemical and Process Engineering), Dr Avril Thomson (Design, Manufacturing and Engineering Management), Prof James Thomason (Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) and Dr Beverly Wagner (Marketing).