Student Spotlight: Alicia Cintora
December 16, 2019
Alicia Cintora is a doctoral student in materials science and engineering from Chicago, Illinois. After completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she chose to pursue further study at Cornell due to her field’s supportive atmosphere.
What is your area of research and why is it important?
In the Ober lab, my research has focused on developing new chemistries to create methacrylate-based polymers and use them to study their structure-forming properties. I have created both fluorinated and nitroxide-containing poly(methacrylate)s via anionic polymerization, a powerful synthetic method that can create polymers with uniform molecular weight distributions. Over the last year, I have shifted my focus to synthesizing hydrophobic poly(methacrylate)s in water-based solvents. Studying polymerizations in water-based systems is important because most polymerization methods involve the use of toxic solvents. This allows us to use more environmentally friendly methods to create the materials around us.
What are the larger implications of this research?
Nitroxide poly(methacrylate)s have applications in a variety of fields, including a variety of electronic devices. We can study their structure formation at the nanometer scale when they are chemically bonded to other polymers, (i.e. fluorinated poly(methacrylate)s), allowing us to further expand their applications into lithographic nanopatterning.
Also, by studying water-based polymerization methods, not only can we start to develop new methods to create commonly used polymers in a much more environmentally friendly way, but these synthetic methods can also be more easily scaled on an industrial setting.
What inspired you to choose this field of study?
I’ve always been interested in what makes materials around us different. Why can some materials be used in extreme temperature conditions while others melt? Why are some raincoats better at keeping me dry? How do transition lenses work? These questions can be answered by exactly how these materials are created. I became particularly interested in polymer science because polymers have many applications and are ubiquitous in our everyday life. We rely on them much more than we realize. By learning how polymers are used and made, I can become a well-rounded polymer scientist that can help create better materials for the future.
What is the impact of your fellowship on your research or decision to attend Cornell?
Having the Sloan Fellowship and NSF Graduate Research Fellowship has definitely allowed me to have more autonomy over the direction of my research and thesis topic. When projects have ended due to funding, I have been able to develop my own ideas, as well as contribute to projects that I am super excited about. Actually, the reason I was able to start working on water-based polymerizations was due to the independence that the fellowships have given me!
What are your hobbies or interests outside of your research or scholarship?
I learn about cosmetic chemistry in my spare time! I have always been curious about what makes beauty products work (or not!). I became a member of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists a few years back and I keep up to date with the most recent publications in their journal. I also like to stay physically active and have been a member of Island Health and Fitness for a couple of years. There are a lot of great people there that have helped me track my fitness progress and given me ideas when I want to change my workout routine.
Why did you choose Cornell to pursue your degree?
I chose Cornell because of the materials science and engineering field. It is small compared to other engineering departments, but that’s what makes it feel more like a family. The professors and graduate students all get along, and everyone is always willing to help you out!