Florida State University’s Department of Scientific Computing, established in 2009, has its very first faculty member receive an NSF Early Career Award.  Sachin Shanbhag, an Assistant Professor, received the prestigious award to continue his research on computational rheology of polymer melts. Unlike typical solids and liquids, “gooey” materials like polymer melts, foams, suspensions, and gels have both solid-like (elastic) and liquid-like (viscous) properties. Rheology is the study of how such viscoelastic materials respond to deformation.

This award is a second important award for Shanbhag; he also received the Petroleum Research Fund New Faculty Award in 2008. Shanbhag graduated in 2004 from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, with a degree in Chemical Engineering. After spending two years as a postdoctoral research associate at Michigan, Shanbhag accepted his current Assistant Professorship at Florida State.

“The career award recognizes the quality and impact of Dr. Shanbhag's research on polymers, tissue engineering, and nanotechnology applications and the even greater promise his work has for the future,” said Max Gunzburger, Chair of the Department of Scientific Computing. “The timeliness and innovatory nature of Dr. Shanbhag's research also benefits students who, through the courses he teaches and the advice he provides, learn how to solve cutting-edge problems in important areas of engineering, scientific, and computational research.”

Prior to his arrival at FSU, Shanbhag focused on developing rheological models for polymer melts. These mathematical models use information about the chemistry, branching structure, and composition to predict the viscous and elastic properties during deformation. A significant amount of progress has been made since then, and contemporary models have become both sophisticated and predictive.

Over the next five years, Shanbhag will focus his research efforts on doing the exact opposite by trying to infer the structure and composition of an unknown polymeric sample by using rheological data as input. This process of using computational models to infer what we cannot see, or measure directly, has been dubbed as “analytical rheology”. The primary motivation for this undertaking is that unlike standard analytical techniques such as chromatography and spectroscopy, rheology is extraordinarily sensitive to molecular structure. His preliminary work on the problem, recently published in Rheol. Acta., has been hailed as an important breakthrough.

Shanbhag is excited by the possible enhancements his research can lead to in the training of students. He has been teaching courses for the College of Engineering and the Department of Scientific Computing and will use his award to focus his research and teaching to two specific areas. First, he plans to enhance minority involvement in his research. Second, Shanbhag will leverage computational methods to emphasize the connection between microscopic and macroscopic properties in coursework.

“Florida State University’s close proximity and collaborations with Florida A&M University gives me a unique opportunity to expose minority students to research. Upwards of 50% of the students in the undergraduate classes I’ve taught in thermodynamics and chemical kinetics come from minority groups. So far, I have been quite successful at recruiting a couple of minority students every year, and the goal is to maintain that level, while encouraging some of them to take up research careers or go to graduate school.”