As you go about your day, you undoubtedly benefit from the research behind epoxy adhesives, though you might not be aware of them. These industrial-strength synthetic materials are used to hold together your car, snowboard, boat and golf clubs. In fact, wherever a high-strength bond with resistance to environmental conditions is needed, you’ll find an epoxy keeping things coupled.

An epoxy resin starts off as a "liquid reactive polymer" that, when mixed, will undergo a chemical reaction and eventually cure to form a solid plastic material.

Epoxies are, unfortunately, inherently brittle. Once the bond fractures and fails, so too will whatever it was holding together, which can lead to a sticky situation.

A career-long quest to create and understand "toughened" epoxies has led to The Adhesion Society's 2018 Award for Excellence for Lehigh University’s Ray Pearson.

Pearson is a professor in the materials science and engineering department as well as the director of the Polymer Science and Engineering graduate program.

The award, sponsored by 3M, is the society's premier recognition for outstanding achievement in scientific research about adhesion. Criteria for winning the award include (1) a scientific contribution that has significantly improved the understanding of the phenomenon of adhesion, or a contribution to the technology of adhesion or adhesives that has had significant impact on the industry; and (2) worldwide recognition of that achievement.

Pearson will be honored at the Award for Excellence in Adhesion Society Symposium in San Diego February 25, 2018.

"I began my career looking at rubber-toughened epoxies that contain rubber particles with diameters ranging from 2 to 100 microns," said Pearson, who has called Lehigh University home for 28 years. "Today, the particles are closer to 50 nm in diameter -- and in some cases are rigid, rather than rubbery."

Anand Jagota, professor and founding chair of Lehigh's bioengineering department, will give the symposium’s introductory remarks. Pearson will close the event with his presentation, "An Overview of Nanoparticle Toughened Epoxies."

Since the award’s initiation 31 years ago, Lehigh University is the only organization to have won more than once. Past winners include Jagota in 2014, chemical and biomolecular engineering professor Manoj Chaudhury in 2005 and Frederick Fowkes in 1989.

Pearson's research at Lehigh focuses on the fracture of polymeric materials, specifically blends and composites. His research has been funded by federal organizations such as America Makes, DOE, NASA and NSF; the state of Pennsylvania (the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Technology Alliance); and companies such as Abbott Labs, Arkema, Arrow International, Cabot, Dow Chemical, Elf Aquitaine, Heatway, IBM, Intek, Intel, Metso Paper, Nortel Networks, Osaka Gas and Zymet, Inc. Other sources of funding have come from company-sponsored consortia such as the Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) and SEMATECH.

Pearson is a prolific author who has written over 65 refereed publications and eight textbook chapters. He has presented over 130 conference papers and presentations in the U.S. and abroad. He has edited volumes for the American Chemical Society, Materials Research Society, Polymer Engineering and Science and American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Pearson is a fellow of the Society of Plastics Engineers and an Associate Editor for Polymer Composites (Wiley).

- Story by Mary Anne Lynch '16G