ChBE Award Winning Faculty

July 21, 2016

With over $10 million in active research grants from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency), DTRA (Defense Threat Reduction Agency), DOE (Department of Energy), DOD (Department of Defense), plus prestigious junior faculty awards from the National Science Foundation, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, NASA, and the American Chemical Society, the faculty of the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering have had an outstanding year.   In addition to the research grants, our faculty also recently received patent awards and many College awards, which included the McQueen Quattlebaum Award for Outstanding Achievement, Collaboration Award, COES Dean’s Professorship Awards, and Faculty Fellow Awards.     “This was a banner year for the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering . . .” – Dean Anand Gramopadhye.

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Dr. Scott Husson receives McQueen Quattlebaum Faculty Achievement Award and Collaboration Award

Dr. Scott Husson was honored May 4th by the College of Engineering and Science at a faculty awards dinner attended by honorees, their families, colleagues and top college officials. Dr. Husson received the McQueen Quattlebaum Faculty Achievement Award, which was based on his success over the past three years. And he also received the Collaboration Award that he shares with Tim DeVol, a fellow professor in Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences (EEES). Dr. Husson was the only one in 2016 to win two College of Engineering and Science faculty awards. Since then, he has received the COES Dean’s Professorship Award in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, which came with annual discretionary funds.

In 2015-16, Husson advised eight Ph.D. students, sponsored two Creative Inquiry teams and worked with 15 undergraduate researchers. His students won 11 research awards, including seven national awards, the GRADS College of Engineering and Science Best Poster Award, and a People’s Choice Award in the Focus on Creative Inquiry symposium. Husson has a high level of funded research that puts him in the top 10 in the college. He is also consistently rated as one of the university’s top teachers. In past years, he won the college’s Byars Prize and Murray Stokely Award and the University’s Prince Award for Innovation in Teaching. Husson is a member of the Faculty Senate and the 2016 Chair of the Separations Division of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors for the North American Membrane Society. He also is associate editor for the journal Separation Science and Technology.

Dr. Husson has also recently received two very significant grants. The first one is titled, “Reactive Membranes for Rapid Isotopic Analyses of Waterborne Special Nuclear Material” for $1,694,061 from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). Dr. Husson is the PI and Dr. Tim DeVol (EEES) is the Co-PI. The overall goal of this basic research program is to advance scientific understanding by developing new materials and methods for the rapid identification and quantification of waterborne radioisotopes. The ultimate outcome of this project will be a fast and reliable method to conduct forensics of debris from a nuclear event by integrating the science of reactive membranes for radionuclide isolation and concentration with accurate nuclear spectroscopy for activity and isotope quantification. Such a forensics tool currently is not available, even for laboratory analyses.

The second recent grant is titled “Robust Extractive Scintillating Resin and Adsorptive Membranes for Plutonium Isotopic Analyses of Aqueous Media” from the Department of Energy – National Nuclear Security Administration Stewardship Science Academic Alliances, for $750,000. Dr. Husson is the Co-PI and Dr. Tim DeVol is the PI. The goal of this research is to advance scientific understanding in the development of high-selectivity sensor materials and high-sensitivity sensors for ultra-trace-level quantification of plutonium in aqueous matrices. Under the regulatory provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, radionuclide monitoring of drinking water sources can be very infrequent, leaving this infrastructure vulnerable. The on-line system developed in this project for ultra-low-level detection of plutonium radionuclides in environmental media (particularly water) will be a powerful nuclear forensics tool. Currently, no such system exists.

In addition to the scientific impacts and providing new knowledge and tools to the nuclear forensics community, these two collaborative research programs will educate and train graduate students, undergraduate students, and postdoctoral researchers and provide them with the necessary skills to pursue careers in nuclear forensics, environmental radiochemistry, environmental health physics, chemical engineering, and materials science. Thus, this research program will contribute to developing a workforce of educated, motivated students, with nuclear detection experience and expertise.

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Prof. Mark Blenner recently received the College of Engineering and Science Dean’s Professorship Award in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. This award comes with three years of annual discretionary funds and honors him for his research and teaching.

Blenner has received numerous grants since starting in 2012, including funding from the National Science Foundation, Air Force, NASA, industrial sponsors, and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. This level of funding places him amongst the highest funded assistant professors. Dr. Blenner’s focus is on synthetic biology and engineering bacteria and yeast to produce fuels and chemicals more sustainably, and to produce therapeutics and enzymes that can do things nature has not yet figured out.

Prof. Blenner won two of the nation’s top awards for young researchers within months of each other. One came through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program, and one was the NASA Early Career Faculty Award, which was highlighted in the last newsletter. His CRISPR-Cas9 Paper made the cover of the ACS Synthetic Biology journal in March and, in the April issue, it was the 4th Most Read Paper of the past 12 months.

Dr. Blenner’s most recent grant is titled “Predictive Structure-Function Relationships for Enzymes Immobilized on Complex Surfaces” sponsored by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) for $487,983. This is a collaborative project with Dr. Sarupria (Co-PI) to study fundamental mechanisms governing the interaction between enzymes and polymeric surfaces. The impact of this work will help develop biosensors with longer lifetime and more predictable behavior for detecting indicators of nuclear weapons activity. Drs. Blenner and Sarupria are working to create a reliable, longer lifetime sensor that would pick up signatures of tributyl phosphate, a solvent used to enrich uranium for use in a nuclear weapon – a sensor that would help searches for potentially destructive weapons and keep them out of the hands of terrorists and rogue nations.

Other recent grants include “Optimization and Initial Bioprocess Scale Up of Omega-3 Production from Rendered Fat” sponsored by the Animal Coproducts Research & Education Center (ACREC) for $38,500, which is a third year of support toward the development of omega-3 production from rendered animal fat. Another is the “Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorter” sponsored by the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) for $175,100. The funds are to purchase a fluorescence activated cell sorter.

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Prof. Rachel Getman recently received the College of Engineering and Science Dean’s Faculty Fellow Award in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. This three-year award recognizes her excellent record in teaching and research and comes with annual discretionary funds.

In addition, the National Science Foundation awarded Dr. Getman the prestigious “Early CAREER Faculty Award” in the amount of $500,000 for her project entitled, “CAREER: Hierarchical Modeling for Rational Catalyst Design in Aqueous Conditions.”

The proposed research will refine molecular simulation models for catalytic reactions in the presence of liquid water and apply the calculations to an electrochemical process for ammonia synthesis that could potentially replace the long-standing Haber-Bosch gas phase process. The current process was developed in 1909 and involves two gases, nitrogen and hydrogen, at high temperature and pressure, which is very energy intensive and expensive. It relies on hydrogen gas, a chemical that is nonideal for many reasons. Dr. Getman’s research team will be working on finding a new way to make ammonia using water instead of hydrogen gas. Ammonia is used in commercial fertilizers to improve crop yields and is crucial in sustaining the world’s population boom over the last century. Poorer regions of the world cannot afford the current gas phase process using hydrogen, therefore, a water method would help bring crucial ammonia to help sustain crops in these areas. The research is integrated with an educational plan that introduces molecular level simulation concepts to students across levels ranging from high school to graduate research.

Prof. Getman served as mentor for 23 undergraduates and high school students wanting experience in performing research, and several of those have either authored or been acknowledged in journal articles about their research in peer-reviewed, scientific literature. She also co-taught with three different graduate student instructors, including two who won the college’s “Outstanding Graduate TA” award. Getman also organized the Southeastern Catalysis Society Annual Meeting in 2015 and the session on Liquid Phase Catalysis for the Spring 2016 American Chemical Society meeting. She is presently serving as the Area Chair for the Catalysis Division of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, where she is responsible for organizing 43 oral presentation sessions and one poster session for the annual meeting to be held in San Francisco this fall.

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Prof. Sapna Sarupria recently received an American Chemical Society OpenEye Outstanding Junior Faculty Award. The award recognizes her outstanding work in the area of computational chemistry and is a testament to the fact that she is quickly gathering acclaim for her research. Sarupria and her research team use Clemson’s supercomputer to build molecular models and perform computer simulations that help researchers better understand how materials work at the molecular level. This will enable researchers to engineer materials tailored for desired applications. In 2014, the society awarded her the Petroleum Research Fund Doctoral New Investigator Award for “Tackling the “Fire-In-Ice” Problem in the Petroleum Industry: A Molecular Approach.”

Prof. Sarurpria was also awarded the College of Engineering and Science Dean’s Faculty Fellow Award in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering this past month. In addition to research, this award recognizes her record of excellence in teaching and mentoring.

Among her several active research grants that total over $1.8 million, is one from the National Science Foundation that focuses on developing computational models for membranes used in water purification. These models will accelerate the discovery of membranes that are less likely to clog as they filter impurities out of water, helping lower the cost of water treatment around the world. As part of another NSF grant, Sarupria is studying ice nucleation on mica surfaces. She also has a Department of Energy grant to develop novel computational techniques that will enable the study of processes that are currently inaccessible to simulations.

Most recently she received a $487,000 Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) grant as co-PI with Dr. Blenner (PI). The goal of this grant is to create a reliable, long lasting sensor that can detect nuclear weapons activity. The sensor would pick up signatures of tributyl phosphate, a solvent used to enrich uranium used in nuclear weapons. Enzymes can detect this chemical, but researchers must find a way to lengthen the enzymes’ lifespans to make them more practical for sensors. Blenner and Sarupria are aiming to do so over the next three years on this DTRA project.

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Prof. Joseph Scott was awarded a prestigious Young Investigator Program Award (YIP) in the amount of $330,000 from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) for his research project entitled, “Rapid and Accurate Uncertainty Propagation for Nonlinear Dynamic Systems by Exploiting Model Redundancy.” The YIP is open to scientists and engineers who have received PhD’s or equivalent within the last five years, and Dr. Scott’s proposal was one of only 56 that were selected.

Dr. Scott’s project addresses the U.S. Air Force’s goal of engineering techniques that could help autonomous aircraft calculate what trajectory to take to avoid danger without having to play it too safe. The Scott team believes the techniques could also be used for other applications, such as biochemical networks.

Scott and his team plan to develop new ways of quickly calculating how to deal with the myriad of uncertainties that come from operating in complex, unpredictable environment. In flight, for example, wind speed and direction can constantly shift, which would cause problems for an unmanned aircraft trying to avoid an obstacle. His research team hopes to develop techniques that would replace current methods that are too slow, expensive, or conservative to be of practical use. “You can write the flight dynamics of an airplane, and you can write the kinetics of a chemical reaction. It’s a very general class of model. Our techniques are useful for anything that has uncertainties in the model, which is pretty much all models.”

To address this issue, Dr. Scott’s research team is developing new simulation techniques capable of accurately and efficiently quantifying the level of uncertainty in the simulation results. Rather than provide a single solution, these methods compute a rigorous enclosure of all possible solutions given a specified level of uncertainty in the model equations. Although this has been possible for decades, existing algorithms are either too slow to aid in real-time decision-making, or provide enclosures that are too conservative to be of practical use. This project aims to develop a novel enclosure strategy based on the key idea of using model redundancy to substantially improve the accuracy of existing methods without sacrificing their efficiency. This work is expected to enable the use of rigorous uncertainty quantification in real-time algorithms for robust control, verification, and fault detection tasks.