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KNOXVILLE — A polymer chemist has been named a University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Distinguished Scientist.

Dr. Jimmy Mays, named to the joint post Jan. 1, has earned international recognition for synthesizing precisely tailored polymer materials and establishing highly productive collaborations with leading scientists and engineers worldwide.

“I don-t want to make a molecule and leave it on the shelf to be admired,” Mays said. “I want to understand as much about what we make as possible. And the way you do that is to collaborate with people that have expertise in fields outside your own.”

Dr. Jimmy Mays, UT-ORNL Distinguished Scientist

Mays, 44, comes to UT-ORNL from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He will hold the title of Distinguished Professor in the UT Chemistry Department and Distinguished Scientist in the ORNL Chemical Sciences Division. His is the first UT-ORNL Distinguished Scientist appointment since 1994.

He is working on a material that would block out harmful substances and keep military personnel safe from chemical and biological agents.

“You could put soldiers in suits of butyl rubber — that’s the material inner tubes are made of which is impermeable to everything — but if you did they would probably welcome nerve gas, because there-s nothing to prevent them from ‘stewing in their own juices,’ ” Mays said.

“So we-ve been making polymers with butyl rubber as their main component, but interspersed throughout are tiny dots of perm-selective material. These let water vapor pass through, but chemical-biological agents do not.-

Dr. Lee Riedinger, ORNL deputy director for Science and Technology, stressed the importance of the Distinguished Scientist Program.

“This joint program is one of the laboratory-s primary vehicles for critical hires of research leaders important to our agenda for science and technology,” Riedinger said. “Dr. Mays is a wonderful addition to ORNL and to the university.”

UT-Battelle leadership has sharpened the focus of its flagship Distinguished Scientist Program, said Dr. Jesse Poore, director of the Science Alliance. While scientific leadership on an international scale continues to be the program-s hallmark, there is a new focus on strategic research areas, Poore said.

“Jimmy Mays is the first in a series of new Distinguished Scientist appointees intended to provide leadership in building programs of research in materials science, neutron science, biological science and computational sciences,- Poore said.

Mays said he was drawn to the joint UT-ORNL position by the emphasis on materials science at both institutions.

“This is an exciting place for a materials scientist,” Mays said. “Just look at the pool of talent, when you combine UT talent with what-s available at Oak Ridge. Add to that the soon-to-come ORNL Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences and the Spallation Neutron Source. There-s a real critical mass of materials research here.”

Mays, who refers to himself as “a scientific extrovert,” specializes in creating model compounds, where the structure and architecture of the molecule are very well known and working with engineers, physicists and other scientists to understand how the structure affects the properties.

“The College of Arts and Sciences is indeed honored to have a scientist of Dr. Mays’ reputation join our faculty,” said Dean Lorayne Lester.

Dr. Mike Sepaniak, head of UT chemistry, said the addition of an internationally respected synthetic polymer chemist like Mays simultaneously strengthens the Department of Chemistry-s Polymer Division and advances the growing emphasis on soft materials, both at UT and ORNL.

The Science Alliance, a Tennessee Center of Excellence, promotes collaboration in science and engineering between UT and partner institutions. The Distinguished Scientist Program is its primary program.

ORNL is a multipurpose national laboratory managed for DOE by UT-Battelle.