Dr. John McCoy, Distinguished Teaching Award 2001

SOCORRO, N.M., May 12, 2001 -- New Mexico Tech presented its Distinguished Research Awward to Dr. John McCoy, professor of materials engineering, at Commencement ceremonies on May 12.

Dr. McCoy came to New Mexico Tech in 1991, having done post-docs at Sandia National Labs and the University of California at Berkeley. In his relatively short time at Tech, John has established a national reputation in polymer research. He has over 45 peer-reviewed publications in prestigious journals that have been cited over 800 times. He has attracted outstanding graduate students and done an excellent job of mentoring them. They all present work at national conferences and have several publications to their credit before they graduate. John received New Mexico Tech's Distinguished Teaching Award in 1993, making him only the second person to receive both awards.

John brings a broad background, including degrees in chemistry, mathematics, and chemical engineering, to his research, enabling him to approach problems from a number of perspectives. One of his colleagues said, "John McCoy has become one of the outstanding members of the polymer research community today, and is one of the few who can be expected to make contributions not only to the literature at large, but also to the fundamental understanding of polymers and polymeric materials."

Dr. McCoy’s first research experience was as an undergraduate while at Bucknell University. The research was "real"– the problem (in chemical kinetics) was open ended and would eventually result in a publication. This experience made it clear to him that research is intellectually demanding in a different way than course work is, and since that time research has always been a part of his life. Subsequent undergraduate research in plasma physics (summer study at Dickinson College) and in the structure of water with X-ray scattering (senior thesis at Bucknell) strengthened Dr. McCoy’s taste for research, and the latter project kindled a desire to understand the structure of liquids which has remained a primary focus of his research.

After graduating from Bucknell with degrees in chemistry and in mathematics, Dr. McCoy studied liquid state theory at the University of Pennsylvania. His desire to treat liquids at both the continuum and atomic level lead him to pursue concurrent degrees in physical chemistry (Ph.D. ) and in chemical engineering (M.S.). His dissertation work addressed the freezing of molecular liquids.

Post-doctoral work at UC Berkeley directed Dr. McCoy’s interest towards increasingly complex liquids. A study of the structure and phase transitions of liquid helium lead to a brief infatuation with path integrals and to a long-term interest in polymeric liquids. In a second post-doctoral study at Sandia National Laboratories, he intensively focused upon the structure and phase transitions of polymers. More importantly, this marked the beginning of a long and productive collaboration between Dr. McCoy and Sandia.

In 1991 Dr. McCoy joined the faculty of the Materials and Metallurgical Engineering Department at New Mexico Tech. The combination of a department that values research, an excellent pool of students (both undergraduate and graduate), and the close proximity of Sandia Labs created a highly productive environment for him.

Dr. McCoy’s has published over 40 articles since coming to Tech. These address many aspects of the structure and thermodynamics of polymers. Most recently he has been interested in confined polymers; in polymer brushes, in polymer equations of state; and in the viscosity of filled epoxy resins.

Dr. McCoy believes than student research was the most important part of his own education, and, when possible, he has involved students in his research effort at Tech. Consequently, nearly all of his papers have student co-authors.

Research Areas

Understanding the phase behavior of polymer blends and co-polymers is necessary to the development of "designed" materials. A large part of Dr. McCoy’s research effort at Tech has addressed the interrelationship between polymer chain structure, interactions between the chains, phase behavior and interfacial properties. Most recently, he has addressed the mediation of direct surface-surface interactions due to an intervening liquid. These effects are particularly pronounced on the nanometer length scale where phenomena such as the precipitous filling of pores in a ceramic by a gas, and the shift in the glass transition temperature seen in polymer films require especially careful treatment. The prediction of mixture behavior from pure state properties can be attempted on many levels. Dr. McCoy’s research group has extensively explored this problem through the use of simple molecular models to elucidate the interplay of attractions, of excluded volume and of chain connectivity in both the pure and mixed state. Currently, he is developing simple molecular models for polymeric systems that give improved equation of state and heat of mixing predictions.

The behavior of many physical properties can be viewed as a manifestation of the percolation of connections. Dr. McCoy’s group has explored applications of percolation theory to epoxy resins. Currently, he is exploring the de-flocculation of high surface area fillers at high shear rates in uncured epoxy resins. The diffusion of gases in polymers is a highly correlated process at short times. Recently, Dr. McCoy’s group has been studying the details of this process in simple model systems and the relation between the relaxation of correlations in diffusion and other relaxation times in the polymer.


(Kathleen Hedges)