Scott Milner is a theoretical physicist and the William H. Joyce Chair in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Pennsylvania State University. He is interested in “soft matter”—a broad class of modern materials comprising plastics, rubbers, gels, composites, adhesives, coatings, and the like—and how their material properties arise from molecular structure and self-assembly. His recent work explores the connection between entanglement in polymers (the more “entangled” a polymer, the stiffer the rubber it makes, and the more “rubberlike” it flows) and topological entropy (the more different knots a polymer melt can tie, the more entangled it is).
At Radcliffe, Milner is researching ways to harvest sunlight with novel polymer photocells. Innovative new polymer materials aim to combine the light-harvesting ability of ultrapure silicon with the processing ease of polymers, enabling “printable” solar panels. These polymers function like chlorophyll in plants, but instead of converting light into sugars, the light produces positive and negative charges. Theory is critically needed to understand how the materials work: their hybrid nature—microscopically structured like polymers, absorbing light like molecules, and ferrying charges like semiconductors—requires a novel combination of ideas from materials science, quantum chemistry, and solid-state physics.
Milner worked as a research physicist at ExxonMobil Corporate Strategic Research for 20 years before joining Penn State. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society, has led its Division of Polymer Physics, and received its 1994 John H. Dillon Medal for Polymer Physics. Milner earned a PhD in physics from Harvard University.