Michael Hickner

  • Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Chemical Engineering
  • Corning Faculty Fellow
  • @hicknergroup
405 Steidle Building
(814) 867-1847


Mike Hickner received a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech) and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).  In graduate school he worked under the direction of James E. McGrath and also spent time at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  Before joining Penn State as an Assistant Professor in 2007, he was a postdoc and subsequently became a staff member at Sandia National Laboratories.  Professor Hickner’s research and teaching interests include all aspects of polymeric materials, polymer micro- and nano-structure, transport characterization, spectroscopy, electrochemistry, and new materials for energy applications.

Academic Training

Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
M.S. in Chemical Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
B.S. in Chemical Engineering, Michigan Technological University

Awards and Accomplishments

Rustum and Della Roy Innovation in Materials Research Award (2013)


Research in the Hickner group probes the connection between the molecular identity, nanophase structure, and the resulting transport properties in polymeric materials. Our activities are motivated by application-specific needs that drive fundamental investigations into new materials chemistry and demand incisive measurements of the structure and transport properties of novel materials. We characterize technologically important materials and synthesize model materials systems to probe specific structural and property questions.

A significant thrust in our group is directed towards the study of ion-containing polymers that form robust membranes and absorb water.  These types of materials are the basic functional units of solid-state electrochemical systems such as fuel cells and electrolyzers and enable water treatment technologies such as nanofiltration and reverse osmosis.  The binding and diffusion of the absorbed water internal to the membrane structure and the interactions between the polymer, ions, and water are important aspects of these materials which ties the transport properties to the nano-scale and molecular features.

We employ tools such as impedance spectroscopy, NMR, TEM, AFM, vibrational spectroscopy, calorimetry, and scattering to probe the structure and transport in multiphase polymeric materials. Our team is composed of a diverse group of materials scientists, chemists, and engineers with wide ranging skills in synthesis, advanced experimental technique development, and analytical analysis.  Ultimately, the goal of our group’s work is to have impact on novel applications of polymer membranes and to uncover the fundamental factors that influence the structure and resulting properties of polymeric materials.

Research Interests: 

  • Functional polymeric materials

  • Electrochemistry and electrochemical technology

  • Transport in materials

  • Vibrational spectroscopy

  • Micro- and nano-phase separation

  • Membrane separations

  • Materials chemistry

Technology Impacted By Research: 

  • Fuel cells

  • Water treatment membranes

  • Surface properties of polymers

  • Electrochemical reactors

  • Membrane processes