Research and Innovation Initiatives

Biochemical and Biomedical Engineering

Research projects in biochemical engineering emphasize biocatalysis, bioseparations, and metabolic engineering. Fundamental and applied aspects of enzyme technology, mammalian cell culture, membrane sorption and separation, displacement chromatography, and salt-induced precipitation are important areas of focus. New designs involving aqueous and nonaqueous enzyme technology are being developed, as are new types of membrane-entrapped-enzyme and animalcell- suspension reactors, which are being built, tested, and analyzed. Metabolic engineering processes are being used to develop high-rate bacterial fermentations and overproducing hybridoma cultures for producing chemical intermediates and monoclonal antibodies, respectively. Control theory of biological processes and an optical biosensor for metal detection are also being pursued. Projects in biomedical engineering involve the design of polymeric inhibitors of bacterial toxins and viruses, and the use of microfabrication tools to modulate the interaction of mammalian cells with their environment for applications in tissue engineering.

Separation and Bioseparation Processes

Research projects in separation and bioseparations employ fundamental concepts for solving applied problems in the biological and environmental fields. Current projects emphasize interactions of proteins with synthetic membranes and chromatographic media, high throughput screening, combinatorial and computational chemistry, spectroscopy, chip technology, proteomics, modification of polymeric surfaces for bioseparations and environmental applications, and the recovery of proteins from complex biological solutions using fusion affinity adsorption, pressure-driven membrane processes, displacement chromatography, and expanded-bed adsorption. Other projects focus on the design and synthesis of highperformance artificial membranes inspired by biological membranes, for environmental processes and chemical production.

Molecular Modeling and Simulations

Monte Carlo and molecular dynamics simulations are being used in combination with statistical mechanical theories to understand thermodynamics, structure, and kinetics of biomolecules in aqueous solutions. Special emphasis is placed on understanding and relating water structure near different solutes and in different environments to resulting interactions (e.g., hydrophilic and hydrophobic interactions). Theory and molecular simulations are also used to study the effects of geometrical and chemical heterogeneity on molecular transport and reaction in porous catalysts, sorbents and membranes, and to apply this knowledge to their rational design.

Macroscale and Nanoscale Materials

Research interests center on developing and understanding the phenomena involved in producing and optimizing advanced materials for applications in optical, electronic, catalytic and allied industries. Thermodynamic, transport, and chemical processes governing the formation and subsequent behavior of these materials are under active investigation.

Also of interest is the self-assembly of macromolecules and nanoparticles to understand the structure and property relationships in hybrid nanoscale materials. Major interests are thermodynamics and kinetics in macromolecular self-assembly, materials synthesis, and structure characterizations. Novel experimental techniques reveal fundamental and important knowledge in macromolecular science and engineering.

Low dimensional quantum materials and their quantum effects hold promise for novel applications in electronic and optoelectronic devices. Some examples include graphene, transitional metal dichacogenides (TMDs, such as MoS2), and topological insulators. State-of-the-art nanofabrication techniques are applied to create structures and devices with control down to nanometer resolution. Optical spectroscopy measurement is used to characterize these nanoscale structures and devices by combining quantum transport (electrical) measurement with optical measurement.

Interfacial Phenomena

Problems under investigation include interfacial resistance to mass transfer and the interaction between surface forces and interfacial convection. Work in the interfacial area is concerned with heat, mass, and momentum transfer in multicomponent, ultrathin, liquid films. Research includes studies on condensation and evaporation in the contact line region, distillation from ultrathin films, lubrication, surface-tension-driven instabilities in atomically clean liquid metals, pattern formation in dendritic growth, protein-solid interaction, and the design of biocompatible surfaces.

Polymers

A large polymer research program focuses on polymer reaction engineering including devolatilization and heat transfer. Current work emphasizes bulk polymerizations in tubular reactors and segregation phenomena in stirred tank reactors. Under study are ways of enhancing heat transfer to fluids in laminar flow and the application of polymer devolatilization technology to unconventional substances. The recovery of commingled scrap plastics by selective dissolution is a major activity. Other active areas include structure-property relationships, rheology, extrusion, and a large interdisciplinary program on biocatalysis in polymer synthesis and modification.

Process Control and Design

A major focus of this research is the development of realistic, robust control strategies for multivariable chemical processes having parameter and process uncertainties. Such strategies are created to exploit the dynamic properties inherent in the systems. Integration of the modeling, design, and control of specialty chemical and pharmaceutical processes is of particular interest.

Heat Transfer

Topics of interest include free convection stability, forced convection (particularly in laminar flow systems), fluid-to-particle heat transfer in fluidized and spouted beds, and boiling. Studies on heat and mass transfer at interfaces are also under way.

Thermodynamics

Activities include molecular simulation, the analysis and correlation of phase-equilibrium data, the development and evaluation of fluid-phase equations of state, and the study of topics in solution thermodynamics.

Mass Transport

Research is in progress on simultaneous heat and mass transfer in porous media; effects of surface roughness and chemical heterogeneity on diffusion; the effects of interfacial phenomena on mass transfer; diffusion and mixing in laminar flow systems; transient dispersion processes in capillaries, porous media and open channels; and crystal growth phenomena.

Fluid Mechanics

Projects in this area involve the mechanics of fluidized beds, spouted beds, bubbles, low Reynolds number hydrodynamics, kinetic theory, two-phase flow, and surfactant behavior in organic-aqueous systems.

Interdepartmental Research

Several research areas involve participation and cooperation with other departments. Such areas include polymer studies with the Materials Science and Engineering and Chemistry Departments, fermentation and other biochemical research with the Biology Department, studies in fluid mechanics with the Mathematics Department, polymer membrane fabrication with the Chemistry Department, and research on lubrication and other interfacial phenomena with the Mechanical Engineering Department. Additional information on research in these areas is found in the catalog sections for those departments.

Research Related Facilities

The department maintains extensive research and instructional laboratories which house myriad special and unique equipment developed for specific studies, as well as extensive analytical and optical instrumentation and computers. Major instrumentation such as a GC/mass spectrometer, an X-ray fluorescence analyzer, an ion chromatograph, HPLC systems, and a laser zee particle characterization system make Rensselaer’s laboratories one of the most comprehensively equipped university centers for research in the areas described above. Many faculty in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department have their research labs located in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, which is equipped with an impressive array of core imaging, analytical, and spectroscopy tools. The department research programs also use a number of major university facilities including the electron optics laboratory and the polymer laboratories in the Materials Research Center.