Case Western Reserve University’s landmark polymer science program launches dual-PhD with students from Brazil

The polymer science and engineering program at Case Western Reserve University, already historic as the first of its kind in the country when launched 53 years ago, has reached another milestone: the start of an innovative PhD dual-degree with four leading Brazilian universities.
The collaboration, funded by the Coordenação de Aperfeicoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES), the Brazilian equivalent of the National Science Foundation, will eventually support 80 PhD students in polymer science and engineering. Each will devote the first and fourth years at their home institutions in Brazil, and the second and third years in residence at Case Western Reserve.
The first group of 12 Brazilian PhD students began the Case School of Engineering program this month, marking a milestone five years in the making as part of the university’s agreement with CAPES, part of Brazil’s Ministry of Education.
Associate Professor João Maia, in Case Western Reserve’s Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering, helped arrange the program through meetings in Brazil that began in 2011, leading to an agreement signed in 2014.
The Brazil program is expected to push Case Western Reserve’s PhD enrollment in polymers research to more than 100 students this fall, and to as many as 160 by fall 2019.
“For the Brazilians, they gain international ties to a university in the United States with very strong programs,’’ Maia said.
Through the same international collaboration, Case Western Reserve’s biomedical engineering program will soon also welcome students from Brazil, he said.
The agreement was finalized with support from David A. Schiraldi, the Peter A. Asseff, PhD, Professor of Organic Chemistry and chair of the Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering at Case School of Engineering, and Associate Provost for International Affairs David Fleshler.
“To welcome the first Brazilian PhD students after five years of planning is a true reflection of the dedication and effort of everyone involved, both at CWRU and in Brazil,” Fleshler said. “I commend everyone for their support of this exciting program, and I look forward to increasing our educational initiatives in Brazil.”
Arranging the program required considerable coordination because of the distance and contrasting academic seasons. The students will have U.S. and Brazilian co-advisers for their research and receive PhD degrees from both Case Western Reserve and their home universities.
“This program represents a major investment by the Brazilian government in polymer PhD students, supporting the growth of this industry in their country,” Schiraldi said.
Macromolecular science is the study of the synthesis, structure, processing, properties and use of polymers—giant molecules that serve as the basis of synthetic materials including plastics, fibers, rubber, films, paints, membranes and adhesives.
“The advances in computation power have completely changed the paradigm in how we work and what kind of information we can extract,” Maia said. ”It’s a very exciting time for the field. We are getting a really good understanding about how polymers behave, from the macroscopic to the nano scale. That’s a huge thing for us.”
The school of engineering’s Macromolecular Science and Engineering Department was founded in 1963 as the first for education and research in polymers nationally, and remains among the top-ranked in the world.
“The Brazilian government and the participating universities have chosen to partner with an internationally recognized, strong and comprehensive university,” Schiraldi said.