Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson | Photo illustration by Joy Smoker April 01, 2022
UD’s LaShanda Korley among six elected as 2022 American Chemical Society PMSE Fellows
University of Delaware engineering professor LaShanda Korley truly values the importance of early research experiences for fueling students’ curiosity and innovative potential. When she was in high school and an undergraduate herself, research and programs that encouraged young women and others historically underrepresented to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers ultimately led Korley to look more closely at the wonders of the natural world than most of us could ever imagine.
Now Korley, Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UD’s College of Engineering, is an award-winning researcher and educator with another accolade to add. The American Chemical Society (ACS) recently recognized her “contributions to bio-inspired materials design and manufacturing” and named her as one of only six 2022 Fellows of the Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering (PMSE) Division.
“It is consistently a pleasure to see Professor Korley collect new accolades for her pioneering research in making polymer materials greener while being more functional with better properties at the same time,” said Darrin Pochan, chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. “Her recognition by the ACS PMSE Division as part of the new class of Fellows shows her impact on the field in such an important area as sustainable, environmentally compatible polymer materials. The world has a huge need for advancement in this area of research, and Professor Korley is leading the way.”
In The Korley Lab, “where unicorns are real” (according to the unofficial motto), this prestigious educator and engineer helps students to be “bio-inspired” by the world around them as they pursue functional materials design. Think about the way a school of fish moves, or how spiders produce different types of silk to move around or capture prey, for example.
By understanding and examining the building blocks and arrangements that make those natural tools and abilities possible, Korley can use that information as a way to engineer new materials, such as more sustainable plastics.
Korley’s research focuses on chemical and engineering strategies to enhance the performance and functionality of soft materials that could be used in healthcare, sustainable manufacturing and more.
Korley also serves as director of the Center for Plastics Innovation, co-director of the Center for Hybrid, Active, and Responsive Materials, and as the associate director of the Center for Research in Soft matter and Polymers at UD. She also is the principal investigator of a National Science Foundation Partnerships for International Research and Education effort in Bio-inspired Materials and Systems and, in 2020, she was elected as an American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering Fellow.
“We’ve just been so fortunate to have somebody as talented as Professor Korley at UD,” said Eric Furst, chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “She has thrived and grown the overall research program of the College and the University. It’s wonderful to see her recognized by the PMSE Fellowship at the American Chemical Society and it’s incredible to have her as part of our team.”
Symone Alexander, now a professor at Auburn University, said Korley, her mentor and doctoral adviser, has been an inspiration.
“It was wonderful to see a Black woman being successful and doing what I want to do,” Alexander said, recalling the first time, as an undergraduate, she met Korley and then worked as an undergraduate doing research with her. “Her research is amazing and it’s really taken off, but I think it all comes from the foundation of mentoring and advising the students — setting us all up for success if we’re willing to take the challenge.”
Several years after they first met, Alexander was less than a year away from earning her doctorate and Korley left Case Western Reserve University to join the faculty at UD. As the senior-most student in Korley’s group, Alexander stepped up to help set up the new, Delaware-based Korley Lab in 2018.
Over the years, her interactions with Korley in the lab helped strengthen her confidence and willingness to try new and innovative things in research, Alexander said.
“It was amazing working with her on research projects because she really does everything to not just help you succeed, but also in giving you opportunities to explore your own research creativity,” Alexander said. “She’s an amazing person and her guidance has made a huge difference in my career.”
Eduardo Nombera-Bueno is only in his junior year of undergraduate chemical engineering and materials science studies, but said he wouldn’t have had the research experiences and scholarship opportunities supporting his academic pursuits if it weren’t for Korley’s guidance and mentorship.
“She’s very passionate about my success and she is always trying to find opportunities for me to push me forward,” he said. “As a mentor, she excels because she’s an amazing, kind-hearted person who wants nothing but success for her group. She’s also one of the most brilliant people I’ve met in my entire life.”
Nombera-Bueno said he’s inspired by what Korley has accomplished so far in her career, and has loved working with her since he first talked to her about doing research in her lab his freshman year.
“I admire her so much as a person, as an educator and as a mentor,” he said. “I can think of very few people who deserve to have their stories told as much as her.”
Korley said it’s important to her to always have undergraduates in her lab doing research, to help foster curiosity-driven science.
“For me, this is a wonderful recognition, but it’s also really a testament to the students who have worked in my lab,” she said. “They have been the stewards of all this exciting research.”