Guillermo Bazan, a UCSB chemistry and biochemistry professor, recently received national recognition for his work with polyolefins – molecules used to produce materials such as plastic.

Born in Argentina and raised in Canada, Bazan moved to the United States after college to obtain his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1991 and his post-doctoral at the California Institute of Technology before he joined UCSB as a chemistry professor in 1998. In 2000, Bazan became the Director of the Center for Polymers and Organic Solids, where his work led him to earn the American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow award this year.

Bazan said he chose to work at UCSB because of its reputation as a great place to study materials.

“UCSB is well known for its interdisciplinary and collaborative research style,” Bazan said.

In addition to studying polyolefins, Bazan said his research group of 18 students works on organic semi-conductors – a class of materials that are usable in applications such as light-emitting diodes, which are usable as a household light source, and solar cells, which efficiently absorb sunlight.

According to Bazan, semi-conductors are either inorganic, like silicon, or organic, like polymers. They bridge the gap between conductors such as metal and insulators, Bazan said.

“Organic semi-conductors have ways to process [conductors and insulators] that are not available to their inorganic counterparts,” Bazan said.

This is because molecules in organic systems dissolve in solutions, which make them more accessible to study, whereas inorganic systems are insoluble, he said.

Bazan’s group examines how to make molecules as well as how they behave, he said. In order to comprehend molecular behavior, Bazan said he must understand molecules’ optical and electronic properties – like emission and absorption of light -and how molecules will arrange themselves in a solid.

“How [the molecules] place themselves relative to each other influences how the charge moves, how efficient the material is to emitting light and how the semi-conductor connects to the outside world,” Bazan said.

Organic semi-conductors are important because they will make it easier to gather energy, he said.

“The most critical issue we have right now is energy deficiency,” Bazan said. “It leads to political problems and environmental problems.”

To help solve this problem, Bazan said he wants to discover ways in which solar cells can have organic semi-conductors because solar cells can absorb light efficiently and use its energy to generate electrical power.

“You put on the sun and get electricity. What can be easier than that?” Bazan said. “And [the sun] will be here for as long as we’re here.”

However, first Bazan said he and his group must study the organization of molecules in organic semi-conductors and whether or not those molecules blend together or separate.

“If you can solve that problem, you will make a big impact,” Bazan said. “You will understand how to control the distribution of semi-conductors in a big organic blend.”

Bazan collaborates with research groups in China, Germany, France, England and Japan. This quarter, he taught a class on the synthesis of polymers.

“Some people are curious about how things work, and some people take it for granted,” Bazan said. “I was always interested in science and how things worked.”

Bazan said he was inspired to study science because of visits to his grandfather’s farm as a child. Bazan said the farm was a great place to see how objects interact with one another.

“My grandfather was able to graft pears onto an apple tree,” he said. “It’s pretty amazing if you think about it.”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international nonprofit organization that publishes Science, the largest paid circulation of peer-reviewed general science journals, with approximately one million readers worldwide. The AAAS Fellows began in 1874, and to become a member, the Fellow is nominated by Steering Groups of the Association’s 24 sections, three current AAAS Fellows or the Chief Executive Officer. This year, 471 members became Fellows, five of them from UCSB. New Fellows will receive an official certificate and rosette pin at the Fellows Forum in Boston in February.