Research in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science (CEMS)

Developing Next-Generation Emerging Technologies

The CEMS provides a technology-centric research environment in several exciting areas to address significant problems of our time.

Clean and Alternative Energy Research

Development of sustainable and environmentally-friendly technologies for energy production, storage, and distribution is one of the main challenges of the 21st century. Our faculty is working on a wide variety of projects in energy research, ranging from discovery of new catalytic materials and chemical reactions, to evaluation of new sources of biofuels and to optimization of fuel cells. Projects are funded by several government agencies, including the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, and Department of Defense, and conducted in close collaboration with academic and industrial partners. 

Graduate and undergraduate students on these projects have the opportunity to gain and master skills they critically need to successfully compete in the current energy-dependent global economy. Examples of specific energy research projects include: Evaluation of structure and reactivity of catalytic molybdenum nanostructures on a zeolite support for natural gas conversion to liquid transportation fuels; Development of a new technology for using microalgae as an alternative source for liquid biofuels; Novel use of microplasma for portable generation of hydrogen for fuel cells; Improvement of composition and manufacturing of electrical batteries and Development of pretreatment methods of cellulosic biomass via flowability control and reactive extrusion process.

Biomaterials and Tissue Microenvironment

Human healthcare presents compelling problems that integrate the complexity of living physiological systems with some of the most advanced concepts of materials design and synthesis within the important context of clinical needs and patient wellbeing. Among the emerging concepts in this field are the regeneration of damaged or diseased organs, interfacing external prosthetic devices directly to the human neural system, and the targeted delivery of therapeutics and drugs directly where and when they are needed in the body. 

Overlaid upon these themes is the compelling need to develop new methods to assess the performance of biomaterial devices and systems using advanced in vitro diagnostic tools rather than animal models. Research along these themes involves faculty members, research staff, graduate students, as well as undergraduate students working in cross-disciplinary groups and teams. Specific areas of focus include scalable manufacturing methods to design and develop graded nanofiber scaffolds for tissue engineering, 3D tissue models to emulate complex physiological systems, engineered nanoparticles for drug-delivery, and hierarchical patterning to control cell-material interactions.

Nanomaterials Assembly and Phenomena

Materials at the nanoscale are known to exhibit unique properties not available in their bulk counterparts. These properties include ultra-high specific surface area and surface reactivity, localized surface plasmon resonance, photo/magnetic thermal effect, high charge storage, and differential cell adhesions. Controlled assembly of the nanomaterials further enables the exploitation of these unique properties for a host of practical applications.

Our faculty, joined by a cohort of doctoral students, have been conducting research at these research frontiers with funding from the federal government and industry. Examples of our research activities include dispersion control and self-assembly of nanoparticles in polymers to fabricate multifunctional nanocomposites; the study of the structural-dynamical property relationships in polymer nanocomposites; the use of DNAs to tether precise number of Au nanoparticles for chem/bio sensing and detection and for photodynamic therapy of cancer; the integration of layer-by-layer assembly of stimuli-responsive polyelectrolytes with optofluidics to develop novel nanosensors, the investigation of evaporative co-assembly of 2D graphene nanosheets and nanoparticles in micro-droplets for supercapacitors; and the development of self-assembled, patterned hydrogels at multiple scales on implantable devices for infection control and prevention.

Research Areas

The Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science (CEMS) provides a technologically advanced research environment in several exciting areas to address the significant problems of our time.