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Honors and Awards

Muzhou Wang Paper Earns Finalist Honors for PNAS Cozzarelli Prize

The paper reported on directly imaging individual polymers in a bulk polymer environment

A paper by Northwestern Engineering’s Muzhou (Mitchell) Wang was the finalist for the 2021 Cozzarelli Prize from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Each year, PNAS gives only one award and names one finalist for the best paper in each of the six classes within the National Academy of Sciences. 

Muzhou Wang

PNAS published 3,539 articles in 2021. Wang’s paper was in the Class I: Physical and Mathematical Sciences category, which accounted for over 20 percent of this total number.

Jonathan M. Chan, a PhD student in Wang’s lab, was the lead author of the paper. Undergraduate Avram Kordon and Ruimeng Zhang, a senior research associate at Brewer Science and former postdoctoral scholar at Northwestern, also contributed to the study.

Wang is an assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering.

The paper “Direct Visualization of Bottlebrush Polymer Conformations in the Solid State” describes how Wang and his collaborators were among the first to directly image individual polymers in a bulk polymer environment. To show the first clear images of single-polymer molecules in a solid material, the researchers used super-resolution optical microscopy, which can highlight individual molecules and provide contrast against a dark background.

This work used a core technique from Wang’s research group. He said the method used is especially meaningful because these images were obtained using optical microscopy, which normally is not capable of imaging features below hundreds of nanometers in size. Super-resolution microscopy has historically been used mostly in the biological community, but Wang’s group is pioneering its adoption in polymer science. The research is a prominent example of this technique.

Using the imaging technique, Wang and his colleagues could directly study the conformation and flexibility of the polymers in their materials.

“Because of the non-invasive, non-destructive nature of super-resolution, we hope to use the techniques established in this work to study dynamics and see how individual polymer chains move in these systems,” Wang said.