Research and Innovation Initiatives

Research projects in biochemical engineering emphasize biocatalysis, bioseparations, metabolic engineering, and synthetic biology. 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.

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).

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.

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.

A large polymer research program focuses on block copolymer reaction engineering, self-assembly, and the development of ion conducting polymers for fuel cell and battery applications. Current work emphasizes understanding fundamental polymer structure property relationships, rheology, membrane development, and a large interdisciplinary program on biocatalysis in polymer synthesis and modification.

This effort using process data analytics and “big data” machine and deep learning (AI) techniques currently involves two major application areas: biomedical systems and smart manufacturing for sustainability. Automated insulin delivery systems are being developed to improve the regulation of blood glucose in individuals with type 1 diabetes. Advanced data analytics are being developed to reduce energy consumption in air separation units (ASU), steel manufacturing and other large-scale processes. 

Projects in the fluid dynamics area involve low Reynolds number hydrodynamics, rheology of complex fluids, kinetic theory, two-phase flow, flow through porous media, and surfactant behavior in organic-aqueous systems. Projects in the heat transfer area include change-of-phase processes (evaporation, condensation, and boiling), microelectronics cooling, Marangoni instabilities and its effect on fluid flow and the performance of change of phase devices, such as heat pipes.

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 Chemistry and Biology Departments, 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.

Research interests are focused on rationally designing or assembling nano-materials into advanced functional structures, characterizing these nanostructures, understanding their functioning mechanisms, and exploring applications ranging from fuel production,  energy conversion, gas storage, to chemical separations. Our goal is to improve the energy efficiency in various fuel production processes and efficiently alleviate environmental pollution.