ASHLAND, Wis. – The American Chemical Society (ACS) awarded a $50,000 grant to Northland College in support of Dr. Nick Robertson’s plastics recycling research. Robertson, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Northland College, received the ACS Petroleum Research Fund Undergraduate New Investigator (UNI) Award. The award is intended to support petroleum research and advance scientific research among undergraduate students. The award marks the third grant Northland College received in support of Robertson’s research during 2012. The two-year research project was among a handful of successful proposals nationwide out of roughly 45 selected each year for a UNI award.

The focus of Robertson’s research involves altering the properties of the most common plastic in use today: polyethylene. More than 50 million tons of polyethylene are produced and used each year. The goal of the project is to improve the recyclability of polyethylene.

“You can only recycle polyethylene so many times before its properties substantially deteriorate,” says Robertson. “Plastics are made from small molecular building blocks, so we’re going to start from scratch with its original properties. The idea is to alter those building blocks so that polyethylene can better maintain its properties every time it is recycled.”

Polyethylene can be found in everything from plastic bags and food packaging to patio furniture and bulletproof vests. The grant award will fund the cost of research and almost half the award will fund student research positions on the project. The research is slated to begin in May 2013.

Earlier this year, the Research Corporation for Science Advancement awarded Robertson a Single InvestigatorCottrell College Science Award (CCSA) in the amount of $35,000. Dr. Robertson’s research on polymer-based biorenewable plastics, aided by Northland students, is one of only 40 projects nationwide funded through Research Corporation’s CCSA Program in 2012. In addition, the University of Minnesota Materials Research Facility Network awarded Robertson funding to support access to cutting-edge laboratory space, supplies, and travel expenses incurred to him and his student research assistants.

Northland College is a traditional liberal arts and sciences college with a unique focus on the environment and sustainability. Northland College and its Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute are located in Ashland, Wis., near the shores of Lake Superior. The College is broadly recognized as a leader in sustainability education having adopted the focus as its mission in 1971. Founded in 1892, Northland now enrolls 600 students from across the nation and across the world. For more information about Northland College and its Institute, visit our website at

Source: Press Release

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