SonBinh T. Nguyen

Northwestern University

SonBinh T. Nguyen

Thin-film structures based on graphene oxidemodels for the ideal polymer-graphene oxide nanocomposites


SonBinh T. Nguyen

Dept. of Chemistry, Northwestern University, 2145 Sheridan Rd., Evanston, IL, 60208-3113


Synthetic nanostructures such as carbon nanotubes and graphene oxide have stiffness, strength, and toughness that exceed those of any commercial structural material (e.g., steel, concrete, polymers) by several orders of magnitude.  However, their applications have been limited, as currently available techniques for assembling these nanoscopic building blocks into macroscopic nanocomposite materials fail to extend their impressive nanoscale properties to the macroscale.  In contrast, nanostructures of brittle minerals such as CaCO3 can be assembled into strong macroscopic natural materials like nacre or bone in the presence of a small amount of proteins.  Nature achieves this through a synergistic combination of atomic-scale control of chemical interactions and nanometer- to micrometer-scale control of component organization.  Taking inspirations from these natural examples, we have been able to design lightweight, mechanically strong nanocomposites, either by mechanical fabrication and chemical crosslinking,[ a) Preparation and characterization of graphene oxide paper”  Dikin, D. A.; Stankovich, S.; Zimney, E. J.; Piner, R. D.; Dommett, G. H. B.; Evmenenko, G.; Nguyen, S. T.; Ruoff, R. S.  Nature 2007, 448, 457-460.  b) Electrically conductive alkylatedgraphene paper via chemical reduction of amine-functionalized graphene oxide paper”  Compton, O. C.; Dikin, D. A.; Putz, K. W.; Brinson, L. C.; Nguyen, S. T.  Adv. Mater., 2009, 22(8), 892-896.  c) Systematic post-assembly modification of graphene oxide paper with primary alkylamines”  Stankovich, S.; Dikin, D. A.; Compton, O. C.; Dommett, G. H. B.; Ruoff, R. S.; Nguyen, S. T.  Chem. Mater., 2010, 22(14), 4153-4157.  d) Bio-inspired borate cross-linking in ultra-stiff graphene oxide thin films”  An, Z.; Compton, O. C.; Putz, K. W.; Brinson, L. C. ; Nguyen, S. T.  Adv. Mater. 2011, 23(33), 3842-3846.  ] or by interfacing nanofillers such as carbon nanotubes and graphene oxide sheets with polymers.


Nevertheless, the mechanical properties of the aforementioned composites are still limited by many types of flaws and relatively weak interfaces, preventing them from achieving high macroscopic strengths comparable to their parent nanostructures.  As such, we have also focused our efforts on two aspects:  1) elucidate the mechanical properties of the interfaces between graphene oxide monolayers and polymers through nanomechanical studies and 2) to fabricate polymer-graphene oxide nanocomposites that are flaw-tolerant, rather than flawless.  This presentation will chronicle our findings over the last several years in the fabrication of composite thin films of polymers and carbon-based nanofillers and our attempts to improve their mechanical properties through synergistic structure-property studies that couples experimentation and computational investigations.


SonBinh T. Nguyen

Northwestern University and Argonne National Laboratory

Address:  2145 Sheridan Rd.

Department of Chemistry

Northwestern University

Evanston, IL 60208-3113, USA


Tel: 1-847-467-3347

Fax: 1-847-491-7713


Web page:


Brief Biography

SonBinh T. Nguyen received a doctoral degree in Chemistry under the directions of Profs. Robert Grubbs and Nathan Lewis at Caltech, where he was an NSF and an NDSEG predoctoral fellow.  After an NSF postdoctoral fellowship with Prof. K. Barry Sharpless at Scripps, SonBinh began his independent career at Northwestern in 1996, where he is now a Professor of Chemistry.  He is also a Senior Fellow in the technical staff at Argonne National Laboratory.  At Northwestern, he has held the Dow Research Professorship, the highly prestigious McCormick Professorship of Teaching Excellence and the Directorship of the Integrated Science Program.  

SonBinhs research was recognized with a PECASE (Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering) Award, a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, as well as young investigator awards from the Dreyfus Foundation, the Beckman Foundation, and the Packard Foundation.  The Union Carbide Corporation gave him its 1999 Innovation Recognition Award, making him one of the youngest recipients of this award.  Nguyen was selected as an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow in 2000 and appointed to our Dow Research Professorship in 2004.  In 2008, his work was recognized by an Outstanding Research Achievement award from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).  His research has been continuously supported by several DoD agencies such as the AFOSR, the ARO, and DTRA.  

SonBinh has coauthored over 250 manuscripts, held over 30 patents, and is the recipient of many awards.  His expertise is in the broad areas of catalysis, chemical synthesis, soft material synthesis, and biologically inspired materials chemistry.  He has made seminal contributions in the catalytic synthesis of living polymers; the synthesis and applications of nanocomposites of graphene and graphene oxide; supramolecular chemistry as applied to catalysis and assembly; targeted drug delivery; and the synthesis and application of porous materials such as metal-organic framworks (MOFs) and porous organic polymers (POPs).  In 2014, 2015, and 2016 he was named a Highly Cited Researcher by Thompson-Reuters.  He also was recently named one of 300 researchers (ranked by the total citations of their papers) in the field of materials science and engineering (MSE) by based on Elsevier Scopus data.  


Professional Experiences:

Asst., Assoc., Full Professor of Chemistry, Northwestern University, USA 1996-present

Senior Fellow in the CSE division of Argonne National Laboratory 2009-present

Member of the Northwestern Center for Catalysis and Surface Science 2001-present

Member of the Northwestern International Institute for Nanotechnology 2001-present

Member of the Northwestern Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine 2001-present

Member of the Northwestern Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center 2001-present

Member of the Northwestern Materials Research Center 1999-present

Member of the Northwestern Institute of Catalysis in Energy Processes 1998-present

McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence, Northwestern University, USA 2005-2008

Dow Research Professor, Northwestern University, USA 2004-2006

Director, Integrated Science Program, Northwestern University, 2003-2014


Research Interests:

Catalysis:  development of new catalysts for organic synthesis and polymer synthesis, especially those that involve asymmetric catalytic systems.  Exploration of catalytic processes involving artificial enzymes, solid state catalysts (MOF, POP, supported oxide), and multiple-phase systems.  Defining mechanisms of catalytic reactions.


Abiotic materials chemistry:  synthesis of polymer systems with novel properties (biological activity, optical activity, conductivity, redox-activity, etc.).  Materials for separation.  Graphene, graphene oxide, carbon nanotubes and their nanocomposites.  Energy-storage materials.


Biomaterials chemistry:  Synthesis of polymer-biopolymer and inorganic/organic hybrid materials.  Interactions of polymers and biopolymer with surfaces.  Drug delivery and diagnostics.