Functional as a philosophy

Malik Adnan Saeed working in a Schrenk Hall laboratory. Photo by Sam O’Keefe/Missouri S&T.

After working for several years at Chevron Corp. on government contracts in his native Pakistan, Malik Adnan Saeed decided to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. He says Dr. Nicholas Leventis, Curators’ Distinguished Professor of chemistry, and his work in the field of aerogels inspired his choice to attend Missouri University of Science and Technology.

After graduating in December 2016, Adnan has continued to work in Leventis’ laboratory as a post-doctoral researcher. He has two patents to his name and approximately four more with review panels waiting to make it to the market. His dissertation, titled “Functional Nanoporous Polyamide Aerogels,” perfectly describes not only his research, but the key to his work philosophy – “functional.”

“I always want to make practical and useful things – theoretically sound but unproven research is not my goal,” says Adnan. “You can challenge whatever theory you want to in the lab, but you have to accept the limitations of reality when you are done.”

His research includes working with polymeric aerogels – nanoporous structures that combine some of the most desirable characteristics of materials, such as flexibility and mechanical strength. They are used in a wide variety of products, from insulation of offshore oil pipelines to NASA space missions.

Adnan works with microporous carbons as an alternative to solid absorbents for carbon dioxide. He says carbon aerogels are a good candidate, since they neutrally accept acids, bases and water, with no apparent impact to them.

Adnan calls another of his projects “cockroach chemistry,” because it involves boric acid, which is frequently used to kill insects. He intends to make polymers out of the mineral acids as a cheaper alternative form.

“The main thing for research is your mind, if you keep that sharp you can do anything,” says Adnan. “You don’t always need the newest or most up-to-date lab or equipment to produce your work, but you must have an open mind and a willingness to accept risk.”

Recently, he was offered an engineering position with Intel Corp. As he prepares to make the transition back to the workplace, Adnan confidently looks forward to new breakthroughs that will be produced in the Leventis’ lab along the lines of projects that he has left behind.

“We develop the idea first, then do the chemistry – with a target of having our work become real-world application,” says Adnan. “The things our lab has in the pipeline are great, I truly believe they are going to change the future.”

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