Chemistry Blog Series: Daniel Gary

by Elizabeth Cui | July 27, 2020

LSU Ph.D. student, Daniel Gary, works to expand opportunities with composite materials by studying the reactivity of different fillers and chemicals. The result of his research has the potential to cut curing time for different materials dramatically, adding convenience and efficiency to production.

Daniel Gary at bachelor graduation

Daniel Gary receiving his undergraduate degree in chemistry from McNeese State University.

Gary attended undergraduate at McNeese State University University in Lake Charles, Louisiana where he thrived in the field of chemistry. Before graduating in 2017, Gary achieved chemistry excellence awards from 2014 to 2017 consecutively, and the received the McNeese undergraduate poster symposium award.

Now, in graduate school, Gary focuses his time on polymer and materials chemistry because he is passionate about learning about and creating new materials.

Most recently, Gary has been working on a process called frontal polymerization and how different fillers and chemicals and temperatures affect this process. By understanding how certain climates and processes affect different materials, Gary and his team can make new materials more efficiently.

Tell me a bit about your research.

So it’s about these filled systems, I would mix various fillers with some different chemicals to form a composite. A composite is a hybrid material whose properties differ from the individual materials from which it is formed. Concrete is an example of a composite since it’s different materials mixed. I was seeing how they would affect a process called frontal polymerization. The idea is that when we add these fillers we’re studying how they can affect the chemical aspects of the reaction and also the thermal aspects of it.

The system is driven by heat so in theory if you add a system that is thermos-conductive, it should increase the speed of the process. However, we found out that some of them didn’t have any effect and it decreased it, so, I studied it more and found out that there were some chemical effects and that these fillers can interact chemically with the reaction and can actually slow the reaction down. Some fillers will speed it [the reaction] up and some will slow it [the reaction] down.

Daniel Gary in front of reserach poster

LSU Chemistry graduate student Daniel Gary. 

What are the real-world applications of your research?

The idea is that when you make materials like composites, there are a few issues that go on. One of the issues is that whenever you want to cure (polymerize) them you have to sometimes use an external heat source like an oven and it takes a lot more time and energy.

One of the big things is that you can save time and energy since this process is rapid. So, just a general idea, you could apply these systems to coatings, to coat different surfaces and different composites. The idea of this system is to save energy and potentially cost too because you may not have to use as expensive of a heat source.

The longevity of the product doesn’t change with this process and in some cases, the materials formed are stronger than traditionally formed.

Did you have an idea of what you hoped your research could do?

So, originally when I started it was a fundamental study and I was also a newer student. Now, I’m actually working on a project where I’m developing a coating for surfaces. Knowing how these fillers can affect the reactivity is very important if you’re going to make a material.

With coatings, it’s good to understand how they can affect potential reactivity and also how you could potentially add fillers to increase the rate of reaction. So, a good example is for some coating applications a lot of the time what they do is take two different chemicals and mix them together and it may take 24 hours to dry, whereas this process could potentially dry within minutes or even seconds since it’s very rapid.

Daniel Gary at general exam

Daniel Gary passing his general exam. 

Why did you go into chemistry?

So, I knew I wanted to go into the sciences at a very young age, I think I was about 9 years old and originally I wanted to go into meteorology. When I was in high school, and this was actually before I took chemistry, a student in one of my classes was actually taking chemistry, and I think she was having a hard time with some of the problems and I took a look at them and I was actually able to help her. I realized right then and there that I might actually be pretty good at this and it looks like it’s pretty interesting so I went and bought a textbook and read through it and worked the problems. So, I really liked it and I think I was gifted in it too.

"Chemistry is called the central science for a reason, it can relate to biology, it can relate to physics, and really anything and that’s what really drew me to chemistry." 

Why did you choose LSU?

So there were a few different places but at the end of the day LSU was close to home and I knew some of the professors there and I had a professor [at McNeese] who really recommended LSU and thought I’d do really well there. It’s Louisiana, it’s home and it’s not too far away. After school, I do plan to move out of state but for now, I thought it’s not bad to be close to home.

If you had to recommend a book and a Netflix show to anyone what would they be?

Netflix series would be Breaking Bad for sure, that is my favorite show, I love that show, and the book I’m going to go with Zoo by James Patterson.

What is your favorite place to eat in Baton Rouge and what is your go-to order?

I like Louis Café a lot and I really like their club sandwiches.

Do you have any advice for people thinking about or are studying chemistry at LSU?

I would tell them to hang in there and don’t give up. Chemistry can be pretty tough at times whether you’re at the undergraduate level or graduate level. There will be a time where you run into walls and have a very difficult time with it.  Make sure if you choose chemistry that you enjoy the subject and that you’re motivated in it.

"Move along and push forward and don’t give up."