Michael Rubinstein

Michael Rubinstein

2018 Bingham Medalist

Duke University

Duke University Weblink
Video of Bingham Lecture (members only)

Michael Rubinstein is the recipient of the 2018 Bingham Medal for his seminal contributions to our understanding of polymer dynamics. Michael was trained in Physics (B.S. at CalTech in 1979 and Ph.D. at Harvard in 1983) and worked in industry for 12 years, first at AT&T Bell Laboratories and then at Eastman Kodak, before moving in 1995 to the University of North Carolina, where he stayed for more than 20 years, and then to Duke University in 2018.

Michael has made many contributions to polymer physics with a total of 20,000 citations and an h-index = 68! Forty-eight of his publications have more than 100 citations. His 2005 review article with Andrey Dobrynin on theory of polyelectrolytes in solutions and at surfaces currently has over 1100 citations.

Michael’s ideas have had profound impacts on the way rheologists think about their data in the studies of polyampholytes, polyelectrolyte solutions, polyelectrolyte gels, neutral polymer solutions, associating polymers, linear and branched polymer melts, polymer gelation, polymer networks with and without fractal fillers, block copolymers, ring polymers, bottlebrush polymers and polymer nanocomposites.

I met Michael when I started working at Eastman Kodak in July of 1985 (Michael had started working there two weeks earlier). We had offices next door to each other and worked together extensively for our ten years at Kodak. Those were great years, as we always had the time to think until a given problem was solved, without distractions such as proposal writing. We were fortunate to have forward-minded managers that valued research; Jack Chang and John Pochan protected us well from the pressures that many industrial research managers would try to apply. We were in the Polymer Science Lab, a merry band of mostly chemists. Michael was viewed as a messiah, as whatever the problem, Michael could give each person a fresh way to think about the problem they were struggling with. He and I learned a great deal about polymers from this group and owe them a debt of gratitude.

In 1990 Michael and I taught a polymer course in the Physics Department at the University of Rochester. That was a real turning point, as we both decided we liked teaching. In February of 1990 we recruited graduate students to do doctoral research with us at Kodak by coming to campus and making a presentation on polymer physics. I had left my 1% polyacrylamide solution in the trunk of my car overnight and when I gave the usual rod-climbing demo with cold solution, it climbed up into the stirrer motor and shorted it! There was considerable commotion, but three students in the first row immediately signed up to work with us. After the course, we continued to learn with the students about polymers by going through various books by de Gennes, Doi and Edwards, Ferry, etc. over lunch once a week for the next few years. One person in our group would need to present the material and the rest of us (mostly Michael) would ask lots of questions. In one such session, a student was to review a book that probably should not be named (not one of the ones listed above) and after the 500th pointed question from Professor Rubinstein, the student proclaimed, “well apparently this book is useless!” and threw it at Michael.

In August of 1995, after ten great years, Michael and I both left Kodak for academia. We had learned about many of the interesting open questions related to polymers and pushed forward to solve them. In 2003, Michael and I published a textbook, Polymer Physics (Oxford, 2003), which is used by many universities around the world for teaching the subject. This book covers neutral polymer solutions and melts, thermodynamics of polymer solutions and blends, branching and gelation, polymer networks and dynamics of unentangled and entangled polymer liquids. Currently, Michael is expanding the textbook to include polyelectrolytes and ionomers, to be able to teach these important topics to the next generation of polymer rheologists.

More recently, Michael has done seminal work impacting rheology in five primary topics. The topic I know the best is associating polymers, where Michael has written four vital theory papers with Alexander Semenov, a nice model of self-healing with Ludwik Leibler and some experimental work with Gareth McKinley. These models are extremely useful, and my group uses them extensively. Sergey Panyukov is a frequent visitor in Michael’s lab and together they have developed very nice models for how nanoparticles move in polymer liquids and for nonlinear elasticity of polymer networks. In collaboration with experimentalist Sergei Sheiko, Michael has recently brought us superb ways to think about bottlebrush polymers and why the networks made by crosslinking them have such extremely low modulus.

The most consistent topic for Michael is dynamics of ring polymers. His first publication from Kodak in 1986 was on this topic and with subsequent publications on rings in 1994, 2008, 2013 and 2016, he has at least one paper on ring polymers each decade! At first glance, this might seem an esoteric topic, as ring polymers are not an important class of materials. However, a great deal can be learned from the dynamics of such polymers that cannot reptate, and after discussions with Michael and Dimitris Vlassopoulos in Crete in May, I learned that another paper on shear thinning of ring polymer melts is in the works, so we all have something to look forward to.

Congratulations to Michael Rubinstein, the 2018 Bingham Medalist of The Society of Rheology.