Playing with Polymers

Essentially, a polymer is a chain of molecules. Most liquids are composed of small molecules that move around and bump into one another. When the liquids are by themselves, they are called monomers. However, when these molecules combine together in a chemical reaction, they form chains called polymers.*

Making GAK

What’s GAK?

Gak can slowly flow like a liquid, but it also can bounce like a solid. Materials with such behavior are called non-Newtonian fluids.




Borax powder

Food coloring

plastic cup

150 mL beaker

measuring cup

stirring stick

measuring spoons

1. Mixture A – Glue Solution

Add 25 mL of glue (to the 100 mL beaker)

Measure 20 mL of water (in a beaker)

Add water to glue

Add a few drops of food coloring

Stir vigorously

2. Mixture B – 25% Borax Solution

Measure 15 mL of the 25% borax solution
This is made with 60mL water for 1 Tablespoon borax power.
(Note: mix well before measuring)

3. Making the Gak

Add the 15 mL of borax solution (mixture B) to the glue solution (mixture A)

Mix well – The mixture will be slimy at first but will thicken quickly as the polymers form.  Keep stirring until mixture holds together like putty.

Take out of cup & have fun.



Spotlight: Paulina Rychenkova

March 2023 Edition

Paulina Rychenkova, Senior Innovation and Commercialization Manager, STPO

Paulina Rychenkova builds on her versatile background—spanning a PhD in theoretical physics, management consulting, and many years of venture investing in technology, software, and health tech companies—as senior innovation and commercialization manager in the Science and Technology Partnerships and Outreach (S&TPO) Directorate at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory.

She supports Argonne researchers in capturing and managing intellectual property from their work and facilitating interactions between Argonne scientists and collaborators outside the lab, such as those in industry, academia and other organizations. In addition, she leads Argonne in Chicago, the lab’s strategic program for inclusive innovation in support of regional economic development.

“What I like best about my role is interacting with brilliant researchers at Argonne, and the ability to apply my business acumen together with my scientific background in support of collaborative research activities,” Rychenkova said. “Also, in the context of my Argonne in Chicago role, I believe in doing the right thing: facilitating more productive and mutually meaningful interactions between the lab, its people and resources, the Chicago innovation ecosystem, and communities on the south side of Chicago.”

Rychenkova, who was born and raised in Russia, earned a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and physics at Hope College in Michigan, as well as a master’s degree and PhD in theoretical physics at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

While at Cambridge, Rychenkova conducted research in the General Relativity Group, which was headed at the time by the acclaimed physicist and author Stephen Hawking. While Hawking was not her PhD supervisor, she had many interactions with him around her doctoral thesis and presented at various seminars which he attended.

During her time at Cambridge University, Rychenkova lived and worked at Trinity College and, in that context, had the honor of meeting and conversing with Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, the duke of Edinburgh, when they visited the campus.

In 2018, Rychenkova became the business development executive in Argonne’s S&TPO. While her role has since expanded, she firmly believes in staying true to your interests and passion and you will persevere.

“Don’t underestimate the value of your professional experiences and what you bring to a new role or organization,” she said.

Rychenkova draws her motivation from her daughters, ages 15 and 12. Her oldest daughter lives with a rare neurodevelopmental genetic disease called Phelan-McDermid syndrome. It is a rare genetic condition that causes global developmental delays and does not at present have a cure. In addition to pursuing her professional interests at Argonne, Rychenkova dedicates her free time to advocacy activities in search for a disease-modifying treatment for Phelan-McDermid Syndrome.

“I especially appreciated the grace I received from my colleagues at Argonne and the entire organization during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. At the time the lab instituted a policy of vacation day donations to help out employees with significant caregiving responsibilities.

If she could provide one piece of advice to inspire young women interested in pursuing STEM careers, she would urge them to have confidence that they belong there.

“At present, there is more support from all corners for women to pursue STEM careers than ever before,” she said. “So, look for mentors along the way and go for it.”

She encourages women scientists and engineers in their early career stages to find a leadership model in their organization, whether it is a female or a male colleague, and seek out a mentor-mentee relationship.

“You can learn a lot from real-world mentors,” she said.



Spotlight: Deena Wright

March 2023 Edition

Deena Wright, Senior Program Specialist, STPO

Wright finds herself at home among the ‘magic’ of Argonne

Deena Wright, a senior program specialist in the Science and Technology Partnerships and Outreach (STPO) directorate, has moved several times over the years. But Argonne National Laboratory is her home, where she remains fascinated by its “magic.”

“There are so many things to love about my role,” said Wright. “But knowing that my contributions support the science and entrepreneurs who are the change-makers for our environmental stability, improvement and longevity—that is where the magic happens—and that truly makes it special.”

Wright facilitates programming for the innovators in Chain Reaction Innovations (CRI), an entrepreneurship program that embeds clean energy and climate tech start-up companies at the lab for about two years to help them de-risk and scale their technologies. Wright helps these innovators learn how to be entrepreneurs.

In addition, Wright is the program lead for Students for Energy and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED), a new internship program. CRI piloted SEED last summer and aims to launch the program this fall. This internship is designed to support undergrad students from minority-serving institutions in the Chicago area. They will be coached in entrepreneurial and business development skills and paired with CRI start-up companies for real-life experiences.

“They are astoundingly bright scientists already, but learning about business, project management, finance, marketing, pitching, and more are sometimes new and challenging for them,” said Wright. “CRI is here to help them develop as entrepreneurs by providing foundational knowledge in business areas. My role is developing the programming they participate in.”

The magic she sees involves such startups as Meati Foods, where they turn mycelium (the root network of mushrooms) into sustainable proteins, and ClearFlame Engine Technologies, which designed a modification for diesel engines so they can use cleaner fuels, like ethanol, to reduce emissions.

Wright started at Argonne in 2010 as an administrative assistant. She worked at Argonne for about eight years before being invited to interview with CRI as its strategic operations lead. She joined the team and continues to grow in her current role.

“I had no idea what CRI had in store for me at the time, but what a happy accident to have landed directly in a field that I didn’t know I was so passionate about—clean energy and climate tech,” Wright said. “My inspiration now comes from the innovators in CRI—their passion, drive and creativity.”

Wright’s experience has proven that science is like magic, but real.

“Don’t base your opinions of science on what you’ve learned in school,” Wright said. “I know that sounds odd, but science is so much more than the basic level you may have been exposed to in middle school and high school. It’s amazing and powerful, and although it can be complicated, you can do it. Many times, the reason people ‘don’t like science’ is because they didn’t have the right teacher. Give it a chance and you might be surprised at just how remarkably interesting it can be!”

Wright believes that if you’re working towards leadership roles it’s useful to study other leaders who you aspire to be like.

“Watch how they handle situations and manage people,” she said. “When you’re ready, which is sooner than you’ll think, go for it. Don’t doubt yourself because you’re likely capable of more than you’re giving yourself credit for.”

Wright was born in Tampa, Florida, and moved more than 30 times in her life, because her father worked around the country as a troubleshooter for his company. She now lives in Oswego with her husband, Rob Wright, a mechanical engineering specialist with the Advanced Photon Source (APS) at Argonne, and her daughter and son, who are twins. She also has two stepsons.

Wright took off a few years when her twins were born, which complicated her efforts to re-enter the workforce, despite being a college graduate with work experience. Overcoming that barrier meant being relentless and not giving up. She started in lower-level positions to get a foot in the door, and worked hard to move forward, she said.

“I don’t regret my decision to take those years off when they were born, and I would choose the same path again,” Wright said.

Success feels good—it is a natural motivator on its own and tends to breed more success, said Wright.

“Like everyone, I have goals in life and being successful generally leads to some of those goals being met,” she said.

Most of all, she believes you should enjoy what you do.

“It may not be your destination but finding enjoyment in what you’re doing will make your days feel more fulfilling,” Wright said. “If you truly can’t find enjoyment in any facet of what you’re doing, it’s probably a sign to move on.”


Spotlight: Jessica Daniels

March 2023 Edition

Jessica Daniels, Project & Systems Management Lead, STPO

Daniels believes in honing skills to focus on boldness, confidence, exploration

Jessica A. Daniels, a project and systems management lead in the Science and Technology Partnerships and Outreach (S&TPO) directorate at Argonne, is a people organizer and project manager for systems that support the framework of external partnerships at Argonne.

She aims to help motivate and deliver change in big and small ways.

“I have one foot in the clouds with strategy, goal-setting and big-idea chasing; while my other foot is on the ground in the real ‘how do we make that happen’ planning and activities,” she said.

Those clouds can pave the road ahead.

“I think I’m at this place in this moment because when I’m up in those ‘clouds’ I see gaps and opportunities, or what the organization needs; and I am good at bringing it down to earth and communicating how I can and will support the change to get to that new state as an organization,” Daniels said.

Originally from the small town of Louisville, Ohio, Daniels now lives in Chicago with her spouse and their toddler. She earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational communications from Ohio University and a master’s degree in nonprofit administration from North Park University in Chicago.

“The best professional advice I received is ‘Plan your work and work your plan,’ which was something a college mentor would say to me. It echoes in my mind still.”

She joined Argonne in 2018 as a project lead in process improvement. Her motivation to succeed is simple, she said.

“In short, future me,” she said. “My definition of success includes whether people are willing to collaborate on a project again. My motivation is my reputation inside and outside of my organization.”

Besides cultivating a good reputation, she said that balance in your personal life and career is not the same as “equal.” But it is based on whether you feel like the areas of your life are in harmony with the way you want it to be.

“How I find and maintain a balance has changed over time with shifts in my role and responsibilities both in my career and outside of it,” Daniels said. “My relationship with my supervisor and my understanding of how that person expects me to communicate about my workload and management tend to be the biggest factors in how I manage and maintain boundaries.”

Daniels advises women to be aware of barriers in their career and what to do to overcome them.

“I think a common barrier for women in any career is having your work under-valued in both tangible and in-tangible ways. I work to overcome that barrier by taking a ‘just the facts’ approach for self-reflection and to be bold,” she said.

Those steps include tracking her work and accomplishments and the impact they made for her team and the organization, and using salary benchmarking tools that go outside of the industry in which she is working. Of course, there are some organizations where those facts don’t reduce or remove the barrier. The hardest barrier to overcome can be that personal decision to value your own work and having confidence and support to take a risk and make a move, she said.

She believes early career women in STEM, who are interested in leadership roles, should attend conferences and build a network of people and resources.

“Get out there and meet people. Introduce yourself and don’t play it cool. Admit and own that you want the future you see someone else living, whether or not you have anything in common,” she said.

She also recommends treating any opportunity to learn about leadership roles like any other possible area of study.

“Ask the same kind of exploratory questions about those leadership responsibilities and discussions that you would ask about an area of research, planning or design you are pursuing,” she said.

Most of all, she wants to inspire young women interested in STEM to be bold whenever possible.

“I have so many things to say to young women interested in STEM!” Daniels said. “Here are a few: Everything is STEM and whether your educators made you feel like you were good at it or not doesn’t have much to do with what you can do. Whatever opportunity you have, explore something interesting, be as brave as you can (or fake it!) and take it. Give yourself permission to change your mind.”