CU's newly established PhD degree program in Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) welcomed its first graduate students as well as the first new faculty hire into the program this fall thanks in large part to the efforts of MSE Director and ChBE Distinguished Professor Chris Bowman.
"We are really looking forward to establishing a world-class materials program at CU and working with new MSE faculty members and students," says Bowman. "This program provides an exciting opportunity for students to collaborate with researchers across those many fields and really approach MSE research in an exciting new paradigm."
More than 50 current CU faculty, including 10 in ChBE, have MSE-related research and have become faculty affiliates or fellows in the program. Several new faculty will be hired in the coming years as well.
In addition to building the MSE program, Bowman has been busy maintaining his own highly prolific research group. Fundamentally, his group is developing novel monomers and photopolymerization mechanisms with an aim of creating and characterizing innovative crosslinked polymeric materials. An image demonstrating the formation of a cross-linked network from one of Bowman's recent articles graced the April 2013 cover of the journal Advanced Materials. "We were happy to showcase one of our photopolymerization reactions and the unique mechanical properties of the resulting networks," he says.
Applications for these new materials are extensive. The group was recently awarded two 5-year NIH grants to build next generation dental composites, research which was also licensed to 3M. They have created new smart materials that respond with shape and property changes when exposed to a specific stimulus, and are looking to apply polymerization techniques to produce higher resolution patterning for micro- and nanolithography in semiconductor production. Other research areas include techniques using polymer chemistry to detect diseases more quickly than current approaches, and artificial nucleic acids that mimic DNA in several aspects but will be far cheaper.
Research groups led by Professors Al Weimer and Charles Musgrave have worked together to develop a radically new technique that uses the power of sunlight to efficiently split water into its components of hydrogen and oxygen, paving the way for the broad use of hydrogen as a clean, green fuel. A paper on the subject was published in the Aug. 2 issue of Science.
The team has devised a solar-thermal system in which sunlight could be concentrated by a vast array of mirrors onto a single point atop a central tower up to several hundred feet tall. The tower would gather heat generated by the mirror system to roughly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,350 Celsius), then deliver it into a reactor containing chemical compounds known as metal oxides.
"We have designed something here that is very different from other methods and frankly something that nobody thought was possible before," says Weimer. "Splitting water with sunlight is the Holy Grail of a sustainable hydrogen economy."
(pictured: a laboratory model of a multi-tube solar reactor that can be used to split water in order to produce clean hydrogen fuel)
During their monthly lunches at Murphy's, ROMEOS members have solved major problems such as how to balance the federal budget, achieve peace in the Middle East, and get the two political parties to work together. As member Bill Krantz attests, "These were relatively easy for our experienced group."
The Retired Old Men's Eating Out Society (ROMEOS) was first established in the mid-80's when Department of Chemical Engineering (ChE) instrument maker Willy Grothe, electrical engineer Norm Taylor, and Professor Elmer Lauer began going out to lunch together during the first week of each month, sometimes with other ChE staff. Lauer would regale the group with stories of his cross-country Model-T road trip in the early '30s and his work in the northwest timber industry.
As time passed, new members Professor Ron West (pictured left), race walker Professor Klaus Timmerhaus, and Professor Bill Krantz (pictured right) became mainstays. Both Lauer and Timmerhaus remained active with the group within months of their "moving on to the celestial chapter of the ROMEOS" at ages 97 and 86, respectively.
According to West, during luncheons "we talk about students whom we remember and past events such as evacuating the building because of an offensive release. We have also addressed some of the major problems facing humankind. I can say that we look back on our days in the department with great fondness, but really enjoy retirement."
Kris Thunhorst received her PhD in 1998 under the direction of Professors Chris Bowman and Rich Noble. Now a Senior Research Specialist in 3M's Industrial Adhesives and Tape (IATD) Division, she is excited to currently serve as the Technical Program Manager for the Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Pressure Vessel Product portfolio. This is an important and very new business for 3M, and Kris was instrumental in the development of the nanoparticle matrix resin technology which enables the vessels to be approximately 30 percent lighter and 10 percent larger in volume than the market-leading competitor. She has been recognized with the Corporate Circle of Technical Excellence and Innovation (3M's highest technical honor) in both 2011 (Individual) and 2012 (Team), the PSI Leadership award in 2012, and Best Overall Technical Paper Award at ACMA (American Composite Manufacturer's Association) in 2011. We spoke with Kris about her experiences at CU and beyond.
What have you been doing since leaving graduate school?
When I left graduate school, I immediately went to work at the 3M Company in the Corporate Research organization in the Radiation Processing Group. It was a wonderful transition from graduate school because I was introduced to a new and dynamic environment that provided opportunity to learn about unique industrial equipment, innovative approaches to problem-solving, and intricate manufacturing challenges. Around 2002, I began intensive training to become a Six Sigma Black Belt. As the Technical Program Manager for the design and certification of 3M's CNG pressure vessel products, I have had the opportunity to lead a very hard-working team through our first few product introductions and thereby opening business opportunity in a completely new area for 3M.
Personally, I have enjoyed doing a bit of educational outreach through 3M's Visiting Wizard program, which brings 3M scientists into schools. I also fulfilled a life-long dream by acquiring my first horse after graduate school. I currently train and show a half-Clydesdale mare in dressage. Once a week for the past six and a half years, we have teamed up to do therapeutic riding with a little boy who had a traumatic brain injury. Being a part of his verbal, mental and physical progress has brought me both amazement and joy.
Can you share a funny story from graduate school?
When you are in grad school, I think everyone believes that things will be so different when you graduate into the working world. The joke for all of us is that the same types of people and things happen in the "real world" as they did in grad school. I remember one lab-mate who seemed like he could never get anything done until the absolute last minute, and how he would be there all night to meet the deadline the next day. It seemed that somehow his inspiration only came in the wee hours of the morning. I also distinctly remember cleaning up a heavily-used piece of analytical equipment on the night-shift one evening (before I could use it), and making a tidy pile of the messy samples on the offending student's chair. That student is now a professor, and tells his own students that story.
After seeing a flier for a research experience for undergraduates (REU) involving sustainable energy for Sub-Saharan Africa, undergraduate student Melissa Rabin applied and was soon off to the University of Botswana (UB). She shared some of her experiences below.
What was your research project at UB?
The agave sisalana plant "Sisal" is very hardy. It has been used for hundreds of years to make rope and rugs. The project to which I contributed is investigating methods of chemically strengthening the sisal fibers for use in composite materials. While I was there, I manually extracted the fibers from the plant leaves, chemically treated them, and then examined their tensile strength.
Can you relate a particular adventure?
One of the other REU projects examined how to provide electricity to a rural village. The whole program drove 5 hours out to the village Tsetseng and we each got to see the school and conduct interviews with the locals. The kids at school were intrigued; we were probably the first white people they had seen, and they had fun playing with my hair. Although the official languages of Botswana are English and Setswana, many villagers only spoke a local dialect. Luckily my REU student partner was from a neighboring village and he knew the language, but it was funny to hear that even the other Botswana students were forced to use elementary words and gestures to communicate. It was extremely eye-opening to see how an entire village lives without refrigeration or lights. We also got to spend a few days on a safari in South Africa. It was incredible to be so close to the animals.
What have you gained from doing an REU abroad, and in particular in Botswana?
My REU was a fantastic way to gain engineering experience and to see how culture affects the scientific process. I was also amazed to learn how similar people are, despite the differences in our cultures. I would strongly recommend an REU abroad!
We are pleased to welcome Assistant Research Professor Mark Kastantin. Kastantin is interested in rationally designing sophisticated, nano-scale, protein-like materials that synergistically combine biologically inspired motifs to perform functions beyond what is found in nature. Some applications of this work include disease diagnosis, targeted drug delivery, and immunotherapy. Kastantin received BS degrees in both chemical engineering and brain and cognitive sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2003. His PhD from the University of California Santa Barbara under Professor Matthew focused on developing a unique, micelle-based platform for targeted drug delivery. In 2009 Kastantin began postdoctoral research with ChBE Professor Daniel Schwartz, receiving a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health. When not at work, Kastantin can be found spending time with family and/or traveling up and down mountains by foot, bike, or ski.
We are also happy to welcome new Senior Instructor Tom Belval, who brings to the department years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. Belval has a BS in chemical engineering from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and a PhD in chemical engineering from Rice University. He has taught the course Biochemical Separations at CU-Boulder for the last four years. He joins CU after a 25-year career developing, transferring, and supporting process technology in biotech and pharmaceuticals. He has held positions in process development or process engineering at GD Searle, Monsanto, Somatogen, Baxter Healthcare, and, since 2002, Amgen. He is an expert in the production-scale recovery and purification of therapeutic proteins and peptides from fermentation and cell culture. He received an Amgen service award in June for preparing a plant to manufacture a new class of products. He enjoys playing tennis in his spare time.
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Professor Emeritus William (Bill) Krantz (pictured with wife June and a friendly stingray) retired in 1999 after 32 years in ChBE, but his life has not slowed down in the intervening years. Since 2008 Bill Krantz has been a Visiting Professor at the Singapore Membrane Technology Center at Nanyang Technological University where he is involved in research on water treatment and desalination. He spends about three months each year in Singapore, which provides a great 'jumping-off-point' for travel to other countries in Asia.
Since Professor Emeritus Ron West retired 18 years ago, he has co-authored the 5th edition of the Peters and Timmerhaus design text and written several technology- assessment type articles with Frank Kreith (formerly ChE faculty and still on the ME faculty). Lately he is having fun contemplating the interpretation of entropy.
Neil L. Book (MS ChemEngr '74, PhD '76) was inducted into the Academy of Chemical Engineers in April. He is an associate professor emeritus at Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Peter Landi (ChemEngr '09) lives in the Las Vegas area. He works in Mountain Pass, California, at a rare earth mining and chemical processing facility. His job includes plant design, product and process development, process improvement, operations support, controls and process engineering, production reporting, national and international travel and various project engineering work.
Ibrahim Almadhi (ChemEngr '12) is working in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia as a production engineer at SADARA Chemical Company – a joint venture between Saudi Aramco and Dow Chemical. He reports walking the plant with the CU logo proudly stuck to his hard hat.
Zach Nager (ChemEngr '13) was hired as a laboratory technician by Boulder-based Siva Therapeutics Inc.