Cellulose is the most abundant material in the biosphere. Traditional lignocellulosic materials such as wood, paper and many textiles depend on its properties. Cellulose may be also be processed to give novel materials with one or more dimensions in the nanometer range. There are two main classes of nanocellulose, long cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) and short cellulose nanocrystals (CNC). A primary interest in these materials is as reinforcement for polymers and biocomposites, but they display a wide range of other useful and unique characteristics, leading to a wide range of proposed applications. Cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) form suspensions with chiral nematic order. This order can be preserved in films cast from the suspensions, raising the possibility of applications as photonic materials. While the properties of CNF and CNC may seem more mundane than those of other nanomaterials, the sustainable and non-toxic nature of nanocellulose, and the coming on-stream of a number of production facilities in Canada and other countries suggest that nanocellulose will play a significant role in a range of novel applications.
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Dr. Gray received his B.Sc. from Queen's University, Belfast. He then spent a year with Voluntary Service Overseas in Georgetown, Guyana before moving to Canada where he received his M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in polymer chemistry. After postdoctoral appointments in the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, and the University of Toronto, Canada, he joined the Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada in Montreal, with a cross-appointment in the Department of Chemistry, McGill University, where he is currently Professor Emeritus. His research interests are in polymer, colloid and surface chemistry, with emphasis on the properties of wood, pulp and paper and cellulose. He has published more than 200 publications in refereed journals, with over 19,000 citations to his research. Discoveries from his research group have included the first reported formation of liquid crystalline cellulose derivatives, and the preparation and self assembly of cellulose nanocrystals to give chiral nematic suspensions and ordered films. These unexpected properties have led to wide interest in the production and application of nanocellulosic materials. He received Anselme Payen award of the American Chemical Society in 1994, and the Marcus Wallenberg Prize in 2013 for scientific achievements relevant to forestry and forest industries.