Dr. Jason Locklin likes to issue this challenge - find one surface in a room that doesn't have a coating.
"Everything you touch has a coating," he said. "Coatings - whether natural or manmade - are important in all aspects of life."
Dr. Jason Locklin speaks to Millsaps chemistry students
Learn more about the Millsaps Department of Chemisty
His mission as a faculty member and researcher at the University of Georgia is "to make surfaces, or coatings, smart." Along with serving as an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and the College of Engineering, he is founder of the Locklin Research Group - the university's research program focused on polymer development.
Polymers, he explains, are useful chemicals made of many repeating units of simpler molecules called monomers. To create a chain, many links of "-mers" are chemically hooked or polymerized together. Plastics, for example, are man-made polymers.
Two common applications of polymer research that have far-reaching results today, Locklin said, are the coatings on the magnetic hard drives in computers and the coatings on biomedical implants.
"The coatings on the hard drives allow a magnetic arm recording device to slide across the surface of the hard drive incredibly fast," he said. "The coatings on implants are extremely important since the body doesn't like stainless steel."
A native of Talladega, Ala., Locklin began his undergraduate work at Millsaps as a pre-medicine major. However, Dr. Allen Bishop, a faculty member and mentor in the Chemistry Department, encouraged him to pursue a career in chemistry, followed by post-graduate work.
Locklin followed the advice of his Millsaps mentor, enrolling in the Ph.D, degree program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where, he said, "I started getting excited about polymer research."
His next step was earning a doctoral degree at the University of Houston after his advisor moved in the middle of his studies. Locklin then went to Stanford University as an Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Scholar.
In 2007, he founded the Locklin Research Group at the University of Georgia because he wanted to make a difference in students' lives while conducting polymer research.
"If you look at the departments of chemistry or chemical engineering at many universities, less than 10 percent of the students have had a class in polymer science," he noted. "Yet, 75 percent of the jobs for these graduates involve polymers."
At the University of Georgia, he said, "I am paid to teach one class a semester, do research, and bring in big money for research. My main goal is to train Ph.D. students. Our goal is to publish and patent."
To be accepted into the Locklin Research Group, a doctoral student in chemistry must convince Locklin of the merits of his or her proposed research.
"What they want to probe must be unique and never done before," he said. "My job then is to get enough money so they can explore."
He has been successful in obtaining funding from the National Science Foundation, the Petroleum Research Fund, the U.S. Department of Army, the Central Intelligence Agency, and several industry partners. There are about 160 Ph.D. students in the Chemistry Department at UGA and 12 Ph.D. students in the Locklin Research Group.
Dr. Timony Ward, associate dean of sciences at Millsaps, views Locklin's research at the University of Georgia as cutting edge.
"One intriguing application is the potential to create self disinfecting surfaces," he said. "For example, instead of needing to re-wipe surfaces such as table top and door knobs during flu season to prevent the spread of diseases, the potential to develop a surface coating that would be benign to humans but lethal to various viruses or bacteria is a promising area. No doubt this would be a tremendous benefit to society."
Locklin's research already is attracting national attention. He has been awarded the Central Intelligence Agency Young Investigator Award and the National Science Foundation Career Award.
Locklin recently returned to the Millsaps campus to be the senior seminar speaker in the chemistry/biochemistry class taught by Dr. Wolfgang Kramer, an associate professor.
"This is my first time to be back since I graduated in 1999," Locklin said. "It is good to be back. I have lots of fond memories from my days at Millsaps."
Locklin is grateful for the liberal arts education with integrated coursework that he received at Millsaps.
"You can't be afraid to go in different directions in your career today," he said. "The days of focusing on one particular need and action are over."
One of the best ways that Millsaps prepared him for the future, he said, was through the comprehensive senior exams.
"You have to present your work, sell and defend yourself," he said. "Seniors may not appreciate this process now, but they will later. These exams are getting you ready for reality."
The College's low student/teacher ratio is also a definite plus.
"Wolf knows every student in his classes by name," Locklin said. "He knows who was in class today and who was not, and he probably will ask those that weren't in class about their absence."
During his Millsaps visit, Locklin met with science majors interested in postgraduate studies at the University of Georgia. "I want to recruit students with a background like mine - a strong foundation in the fundamentals," he said.
"My impression of Jason is a very personable, energetic individual who can clearly inspire students in the field of science and who is committed to producing motivated and well-rounded graduates," Ward said.
"It is always great to have someone as successful as Dr. Locklin to return," said Kramer, whose class he was visiting. "We want to connect our campus to his laboratory at the University of Georgia and have a pipeline of students going there."
To learn more about Dr. Jason Locklin and the Locklin Research Group, visit http://www.uga.edu/jlocklin.