Graduate researcher Katelyn Randazzo wins best first paper for measuring key material property

Written by
Scott Lyon
March 30, 2022

Graduate student Katelyn Randazzo has won the department’s 2022 SABIC Best First Publication Award, recognizing her work’s scientific merit and impact on the study of materials.

A committee of researchers at SABIC, a chemical manufacturing company, selected the winning paper and awarded Randazzo, the paper’s first author, a $1,500 prize. Randazzo was nominated by her adviser, Rodney Priestley, the Pomeroy and Betty Perry Smith Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering and dean of Princeton’s Graduate School.

“Katie is a meticulous and talented researcher,” Priestley said. “In the manuscript recognized by SABIC, [she] uncovered the influence of irreversible adsorption on the glass transition, an important material property.”

Priestley added that Randazzo, a sixth-year Ph.D. student, is a “dedicated mentor and educator,” which he called equally important to her work as a researcher.

The winning paper appeared in the journal Macromolecules last October. It detailed a new method for directly measuring the temperature at which a plastic turns from brittle to rubbery, known as the glass transition temperature, in key regions of a composite material.

Composites are commonly prepared by combining nanoparticles and plastics using heat. But scientists had long struggled to see clearly into the complex regions where heated plastic becomes absorbed onto the nanoparticles. Randazzo noticed the missing data in the scientific literature and became interested in quantifying the effects of this absorption layer, hoping it would help account for some of the unexplained variability other researchers had reported.

She used a transmission electron microscope to take sequences of ultra-high-resolution images, allowing a direct view of how the adsorption layer on the nanoparticles changed with heat. And she combined those images with light-based techniques to measure key material properties. The results quantify how the thickness of the absorption layer impacts the character of the material within that layer, giving researchers across academia and industry a cutting-edge look at a routine chemical manufacturing process.

The work was funded in part by a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, awarded to Randazzo in 2018. She has previously won two Excellence in Teaching Awards from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the Air Products Teaching Award from CBE. She is currently a Quin Morton Fellow with the Princeton Writing Program and has taught math and chemistry through the McGraw Center’s Prison Teaching Initiative. Randazzo joined Princeton in 2016 after earning a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at the University of North Dakota.