2017 FALL NEWSLETTER
ARTIE MCFERRIN DEPARTMENT OF
Letter Department Head from the
Just like in this last academic year and for many years now, we are confident each day will be filled with a far-reaching purpose and student-centered initiative. These are the factors that drive our world-class instruction and research and help us create an environment of excellence. In 2017, we recruited another professor of practice and a new assistant professor, adding to our distinguished community of educators who provide students with education and training not available in textbooks. Last fall, we had our largest graduate program enrollment to date, and our numbers will continue to grow. And, illustrating our commitment to bringing more female scientists and engineers into industry and academia, approximately 40 percent of our sophomore class is female. If you have never visited us, I invite you to come and experience in person what it looks like to prepare students for national and international leadership roles in industry, government and academia while defining and developing new directions in chemical engineering.
M. Nazmul Karim Department Head Professor Holder of the T. Michael Oâ€™Connor Chair II
The 25 by 25 initiative is a transformational engineering education program designed to expand access for qualified students to pursue engineering education at Texas A&M University and increase our total enrollment to 25,000 students by 2025. This includes students on our College Station, Galveston and Qatar campuses, online masterâ€™s degree students and students in our statewide engineering academies. 25 by 25 is not just about increasing numbers, it is also about enhancing quality, retention and excellence. To learn more, visit engineering.tamu.edu/25by25.
ARTIE MCFERRIN DEPARTMENT OF CHEMICAL ENGINEERING
DIVERSITY 31% 68%
Top Research Areas • Biofuels
• Biomedicine • Energy • Multiscale
Safety; Process Systems Engineering
Endowed Faculty Fellows
THE COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING
Undergraduate Program Ranked No. 7 (Public) (U.S. News & World Report, 2018)
Graduate Program Ranked No. 7 (Public) (U.S. News & World Report, 2018)
3122 TAMU College Station, TX 77843-3122
CHEMICAL ENGINEERING AREAS OF FOCUS Biomedicine | Biomolecules
Materials | Microelectronics
Biofuels | Biotechnology
Multiscale Systems Engineering
Complex Fluids | Microfluidics | Soft Matter
Process Safety | Process Systems Engineering
Computational Chemical Engineering
Environmental | Sustainability
Simulation and observation of chaotic flows
Uncovering the Origins of Life Scientists have long known that the building blocks of life – amino acids, nucleobases and sugars – were present in the early ocean. However, these building blocks were found in very low concentrations, and, in order for life to emerge, they needed to be combined and enriched into long-chain macromolecules. Identifying what factors drove this synthesis has been one of the
Victor Ugaz, professor and holder of the Charles D. Holland ’53 Professorship and the Thaman Professorship
The Texas A&M research team describes a mechanism that may have played a major role in combining dilute chemical building blocks into the long-chain macromolecules necessary for life. most critical questions concerning the origin of life. A Texas A&M University research team, led by Dr. Victor Ugaz, professor and holder of the Charles D. Holland ’53 Professorship and the Thaman Professorship, has uncovered a physical mechanism that may help provide an answer. In an article appearing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the research team describes a mechanism that may have played a major role in combining these dilute chemical building blocks into long-chain macromolecules necessary for life. The team created a model system of cylindrical cells that mimic the structure of pores in mineral formations found near a recently discovered type of subsea hydrothermal vent. Temperature gradients present within these vents function just like a lava lamp, circulating fluid within the tiny pore spaces. Ugaz and his team found that these flows are surprisingly complex and chaotic. This discovery allowed them to identify conditions where flows can provide bulk homogenization of the various organic molecules present in the vents, while at the same time transporting them to catalytically active pore surfaces where they absorb and react.
Improving Efficiency of Electric Vehicle Batteries The Vehicle Technology Office within the Department of Energy (DOE) recently awarded a $1.2 million grant to a team led by Dr. Perla Balbuena, professor and holder of the GPSA Professorship, for important battery efficiency research. The project, “Understanding and Strategies for Controlled Interfacial Phenomena in Lithium-Ion Batteries and Beyond,” is part of a $57 million DOE investment in 35 projects aimed at reducing the cost of, and improving the efficiency of, plug-in electric, alternative fuel and conventional vehicles. Balbuena’s team will conduct research that falls under advanced battery materials modeling, a key factor for the DOE’s goals of “EV everywhere.” Currently, the most significant limiting factors in the adoption of plug-in electric vehicles (EV) is the cost and efficiency of the battery. The team seeks to elucidate reactions at the interface of the negative electrode (anode) and the electrolyte solution, as well as consider silicon as an alternative anode material. Silicon has great promise because of its capacity to store Li ions at a rate and order of magnitude higher than currently used carbon anodes. Rather than simply holding lithium ions, silicon atoms combine with lithium ions, creating an alloy which alters the structure of the anode. This property allows silicon roughly 10-times the storage capacity of graphite – both an opportunity and a challenge, as lithium insertion causes the silicon crystal to expand up to three times in volume.
Perla Balbuena, professor and holder of the GPSA Professorship
With extensive experience in modeling at all scales, from the atomistic to the continuum, Balbuena’s team expects to deliver important knowledge and solutions for producing efficient EV batteries.
With its extensive experience in modeling at all scales, from the atomistic to the continuum, Balbuena’s team expects to deliver important knowledge and solutions for producing efficient EV batteries.
Lele awarded prestigious NIH R01 grant to study intracellular signal amplification
Pushkar Lele, assistant professor
Dr. Pushkar Lele, assistant professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University, was recently awarded a single-PI, research project grant (R01) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The R01 grant is one of the most sought after federal grants, and the leading NIH grant.
The grant, “Mechanical Regulation of UltraSensitivity in E. Coli Flagellar Motors,” will allow Lele to expand upon his research on the sensing and intracellular transduction of mechanical signals in bacteria with the aid of extracellular appendages. One such appendage is the flagellum, which enables a bacterium to swim and navigate in response to chemical signals, a process that is known as chemotaxis. Lele and his research team have already shown that the flagellar motor, which operates the flagellum, is able to detect mechanical cues and undergoes structural changes. It is unclear how the structural and functional adaptations within motors facilitate chemotaxis, colonization and infections. With this grant, Lele and his team will explain how mechano-responses Image of E. Coli
influence chemotaxis and swarming motility, two processes that likely aid in the detection and colonization of a solid surface. “All living systems have highly sophisticated mechanisms that serve to amplify important environmental signals and to suppress noise,” Lele said. “It takes a lot of resources for a bacterium to colonize a surface, so it has to have some certainty about the signal. Otherwise it will have wasted a tremendous amount of energy.” Specifically, Lele is interested in how the output of the chemotaxis network, a molecular switch, responds to mechanical cues. For decades it was believed that chemical inputs alone controlled the switch activity. However, Lele and his research team found that the cell must ‘tune’ its chemotactic output to mechanical signals in order to colonize a surface. That said, the mechanisms of such adaptation remain unclear. This is a crucial bit of missing information that Lele believes could help influence current clinical strategies for tackling infections and antibiotic resistance. Such potential breakthroughs may prove instrumental in the prevention of bacterial infections without triggering the pathogen’s defense mechanisms. Lele’s receiving the grant is unique, R01 investigators under the age of 35 as a group make up around three percent of the award total, down from 18 percent in 1983.
Alumnus Named President and CEO of Ascend Performance Materials In April, Ascend Performance Materials announced the promotion of Phil McDivitt, a 1987 graduate and advisory council member of the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering, to president, chief executive officer and board member. McDivitt joined Ascend Performance Materials in April 2015 as president of the company’s nylon business and quickly moved up the ranks. In 2016, he was named company president and chief operating officer.
more dynamic commercial organization,” says Barry Siadat, chairman of Ascend Performance Materials. “As envisioned by the board at the time of his hiring, Phil has demonstrated his readiness to transition to CEO.” Prior to joining Ascend Performance Materials, McDivitt spent more than nine years at Celanese, a global technology and materials company, working his way up to vice president and general manager of that company’s engineered materials business.
“Since joining, he has made important contributions to building a stronger team and culture, improving financial and operating disciplines, and creating a
“Since joining, [McDivitt] has made important contributions to building a stronger team and culture, improving financial and operating disciplines, and creating a more dynamic commercial organization.” — Barry Siadat, chairman of Ascend Performance Materials
Phil McDivitt ’87, president and CEO, Ascend Performance Materials