New Director Named for Kent State’s Advanced Materials and Liquid Crystal Institute
Think about liquid crystals and a flat screen television may be the first item that comes to mind. Yet the future of liquid crystal science will see it pairing more strongly with biology than displays, predicts the new head of Kent State University’s Advanced Materials and Liquid Crystal Institute.
Torsten Hegmann, Ph.D., was named the new director of the institute, effective July 1, having been selected for his research accomplishments, entrepreneurial spirit and passion for social impact.
Hegmann has been an associate director of the institute since 2018 and a faculty member and researcher at Kent State since 2011. He said encouraging the institute to work collaboratively with more nontraditional partners will be his chief goal.
Those partners will include biologists, materials chemists, biophysicists, engineers, Kent State’s Design Innovation group, and the university’s Brain Health Research Institute, of which he is a member. Hegmann said the future of liquid crystals will be its applications in biology and medical science as well as sensors and active, responsive systems, all of which already are part of his research.
“Liquid crystal research is moving more toward biology and toward materials that respond to their environment in unique and unexpected ways,” he said. “These are the new frontiers for the field.”
Hegmann is the first director of the institute since it was renamed in 2018 and its focus expanded to embrace a broad array of advanced materials research and science, not only liquid crystals.
Kent State President Todd Diacon said he was confident Hegmann was the right leader to guide the institute as it expands its focus.
“Liquid crystal research is part of the backbone of Kent State,” Diacon said. “Dr. Hegmann understands its importance to the university’s history and shares my commitment that Kent State remain a world leader in the research of the newest phases of advanced materials science.”
Hegmann was selected following a national search for the first director of the institute since its focus was expanded in 2018, said Paul E. DiCorleto, Ph.D., vice president for research and sponsored programs at Kent State.
“Dr. Hegmann is a highly accomplished researcher in the fields of liquid crystals as well as bio- and nanomaterials,” DiCorleto said. “He has not only made important contributions to our fundamental knowledge in these fields, but he has also shown entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for societal impact of his research.”
DiCorleto noted how Hegmann has co-founded a company, Torel LLC, that uses liquid crystal sensors to detect toxic gases and vapors, which can help to save the lives of firefighters and other first responders.
“Dr. Hegmann has demonstrated a true commitment to multidisciplinary collaborative approaches to answering important questions, which is a major goal of this new Institute,” DiCorleto said.
Hegmann takes on his new role with goals for the institute that include:
- Increasing the institute’s distinctive role in the future of liquid crystal and materials science to inspire a higher level of competitiveness for research funding.
- Streamlining and modernizing the look of the institute’s buildings and laboratories. “The whole appearance needs to ooze that this is a place of modern materials science,” he said.
- Elevating the level of symposiums held at Kent State to national and international prominence beginning in 2020. “It’s basically spreading the word and reaching out to a large advanced materials community to share the mission and get them to participate in that,” Hegmann said.
- Renewing the research infrastructure so that all instruments and equipment are state-of-the-art. The purchase of such equipment will be tied to better fundraising, he noted.
Key to increased research funding, Hegmann said, is being able to show that the institute has multifaceted research that crosses varied domains. While the institute is adept at soft matter and liquid crystals, expanding research into affiliated materials and engineering to complement existing research is a must.
“We need to build critical mass in other materials research domains to complement this existing liquid crystal, soft matter expertise,” he said.
Demonstrating those research links and how they benefit each other will take the institute to a higher level and make additional research dollars more easily attainable, Hegmann explained.
Hegmann said his own research lab has cross-collaboration expertise in medicine, pharmacology, nanochemistry and engineering, and he will work to ensure the entire institute takes on a wider range of research.
Having served as associate director of the institute for the past year, Hegmann said he has “gotten a taste of how we do things and I want to translate that to a much bigger picture of the research itself.”
A native of Germany, Hegmann, 47, was working in Canada when he came to a seminar at Kent State’s Liquid Crystal Institute in 2011. He learned of the state-sponsored Ohio Research Scholars program to attract young international research talent to the state, applied and was hired the same year.
Hegmann earned both his undergraduate degree and doctorate in chemistry from Martin Luther University in Halle, Germany. Before coming to Kent State, he was an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada.
Coming to the birthplace of liquid crystal exploration was an exciting opportunity for Hegmann.
“This is where a lot of the research in this field started,” he said.
Kent State’s Liquid Crystal Institute was founded in 1965 by Glenn H. Brown, a chemistry professor and pioneer in the field of liquid crystal research. The institute later was named in his honor. The institute is regarded worldwide as the birthplace of liquid crystal displays and the world’s first research center focused on the basic and applied science of liquid crystals.
In the fall of 2018, the institute was renamed the Advanced Materials and Liquid Crystal Institute to reflect the expanding body of research in materials science beyond liquid crystals that is ongoing at Kent State.
Now, Hegmann sees a broader, brighter future for the institute, including its collaborations with Kent State’s Brain Health Research Institute.
“Some of my own research is in nanomaterials used for drug delivery to the brain,” he said. “It’s a logical link for me – the combination of material science and the brain. There are, perhaps, so many more connections we can make between the brain and materials science, especially liquid crystals, which are regarded as a model system for cell membranes.”
Hegmann said he is anxious to see all researchers advancing to more collaborations with other sciences, and said he is looking forward to the co-laboratories in the terrace level of the Integrated Sciences Building to be complete in the fall of 2020. The space is being designed and created for scientists from varying fields to be able to work together and conduct joint research across multiple disciplines.
“This will all be part of the more intensified interactions between researchers,” he said.
For more information on Kent State’s Advanced Materials and Liquid Crystal Institute, visit www.kent.edu/amlci.
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Torsten Hegmann, Ph.D., is the new director of Kent State University’s Advanced Materials and Liquid Crystal Institute effective July 1, 2019.