Chemistry professor John Pojman is trying to change how art is created.
For years, Pojman studied the process of frontal polymerization and self-propagating reactions, in which reactions spread after being triggered by an outside energy source. He said the process inspired him to create a product for wood adhesives and construction that would take the self-propagating process to the marketplace.
His involvement in the art world occurred by chance. Four years ago he gave a presentation to the LSU’s College of Art and Design where Shelby Prindaville, a then-fine arts graduate student, approached him about improving the product for use in sculpture.
“Chemically it’s very similar to what is used in dental fillings, except those are light activated and this is heat activated,” Pojman said.
The polymer cures by heating a portion of the material to 100 degrees Celsius with a heat gun. As the section begins to harden, the reaction spreads across the sculpture and the entire piece hardens within minutes, Pojman said.
Unlike other polymer clays, Pojman said this material never dries out. It can also withstand 6,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, making it five times stronger than other polymer clays.
This semester, the material is being used in an experimental sculpture class in the College of Art and Design. Students manipulate the material to determine its strengths and weaknesses, test its uses in conjunction with other materials and provide suggestions to improve the product.
Mike Stumbras, a ceramic arts graduate student and the course instructor, developed the class in conjunction with Pojman. Stumbras said the course is a departure for himself as well as his students, and the learning process has been exciting for all involved.
So far, response to the product has been positive.
“The feedback, not only from my students in this class but from other people who are interested in what we’ve got going on here, has been really positive,” Stumbras said. “I think this material has tons of potential and in a short amount of time I can imagine that we’ll see it in a lot of places.”
Re-entry ceramics student Edward Facundus-Botero said using the material allows him to combine his backgrounds in art and science to experiment with the material’s uses. The clay has many potential applications that are just being explored, he said.
Graphic design junior Allison Bellingham said the experimental course caught her attention when she was scheduling her arts credit. Working with the clay is incredible, she said.
“I’ve worked with other clay and so far I prefer this 100 percent,” Bellingham said. “There’s outside variables that you can add to the clay to make it better, which is unlike anything I’ve ever used or heard of. It’s so versatile.”
Having Pojman participate in the class has also been a highlight for Stumbras and the students.
“He’s excited to see what people have done with his material, and he’s interested to see what will come of it,” Bellingham said. “He’s not just trying to be a boss, he’s trying to be a student as well.”
Pojman said he’s learned a lot from the class — not just about his product but about the intersection of art and science and the passion members of both branches share.
“I really have a lot more respect for artists — how hard it is to do it well and how it’s not appreciated in society,” Pojman said. “A chemist can do it and they’re guaranteed a comfortable living, but that’s usually not true for artists. They’re going to have to do it just because they love it. I like people who are passionate about what they’re doing, whatever it is.”