ChemE Briefs

Welcome to ChemE Briefs, a place to find quick notes and posts from the faculty, students, staff and alumni of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Virginia.

    Hava Inc. Keeps Washable Face Masks Moving Toward Market with a Small Business Grant from CDC

    November 17, 2022

    Assistant professor of chemical engineering Gaurav “Gino” Giri’s startup company, Hava Inc., has received a $259,484 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the Centers for Disease Control.

    Giri co-founded Hava Inc. with Balashankar Mulloth, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, using metal organic frameworks-based air filtration technology he created in his chemical engineering lab at UVA.

    The company produces fully washable, highly efficient fabric face masks and filters made with the metal organic frameworks material. The team is designing the masks to meet the American Society for Testing and Materials’ specifications for breathability and filtration efficiency for nonmedical face masks.

    Giri has filed a patent on his process to rapidly synthesize the metal organic frameworks material, which can be applied to ordinary fabric using existing manufacturing technology.

    Hava received the CDC grant to continue moving the face masks toward commercialization, which you can learn more about here.


    As Discoverers, Educators and Entrepreneurs, Great Faculty Do a World of Good

    November 17, 2022


    It’s been an exceptional year for UVA chemical engineering faculty, whose innovative research, teaching excellence and entrepreneurship are improving lives through applications in medicine, energy, agriculture and many other areas. 

    We highlight a few here, starting with the ingenuity of associate professors Gary Koenig and Geoffrey Geise and assistant professor Gaurav “Gino” Giri, who have teamed with an industry partner to compete for the U.S. Department of Energy’s American-Made Geothermal Lithium Extraction Prize. 

    Grad Students Demonstrate Excellence on the Road with Conference Research Prizes

    November 16, 2022

    A busy conference season for chemical engineering Ph.D. students yielded numerous awards, a testament to the students’ excellence and commitment to difference-making research. We rounded up a few examples here.

    Mara Kuenen in assistant professor Rachel Letteri’s polymer biomaterials lab collected two best poster prizes plus a scholarship to attend a short course on sustainable polymers. Her work focuses on designing materials with controlled lifetimes to address challenges such as plastic waste pollution and drug delivery.

    In professor William Epling’s environmental catalysis lab, Silvia Marino earned two competitive travel awards to attend conferences and present research. Both projects investigate catalysts to improve the aftertreatment system of gasoline-engine cars to reduce pollution.

    Environmental Science Geochemistry Students Tour NMCF

    November 01, 2022

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    UVa Environmental Science Students in Prof. Steve Macko's Geochemistry Class ( EVGE 7850 ) tour the X-ray Diffraction and X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy laboratories, where NMCF Scientists, DIane Dickie and Helge Heinrich, describe instrumentation and methods.

    Last Friday, Oct. 28, 2022, graduate and undgraduate students in Prof. Steve Macko's Geochemistry (EVE 7850) took a short field trip from the Environmental Science department to the NMCF, where our staff (Diane Dickie and Helge Heinrich) demonstrated X-ray instrumentation. Dr. Dickie ran samples of table salt on the Empyrean X-ray Diffractometer (XRD) to determine the mineral composition, while Dr. Heinrich showed the students around the X-ray Photoelectron Spectrometer (XPS). Students learned what information can be learned from each instrument's spectra, as well as the types of samples appropriate for each analytical method.






    Geise Lab Postdoc Earns Travel Award for AIChE Annual Meeting

    October 28, 2022

    Luca Kim, a postdoctoral researcher in associate professor of chemical engineering Geoffrey Geise’s research group, has earned a $1,500 Hanwha Travel Award to attend the 2022 AIChE Annual Meeting.

    Kim will make several research presentations at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers conference, which will be held the week of Nov. 13 in Phoenix, Arizona.

    Kim will make two oral presentations, “Novel Crosslinked Ion Exchange Membranes with Phenyl Acrylate for Direct Urea Fuel Cell and Nonaqueous Flow Battery Applications,” and “Co-Transport of Lithium, Sodium and Potassium Ions in Pegylated Sulfonated Polysulfones.”

    The latter discusses a series of novel positive ion exchange membranes Kim developed in the Geise lab. This investigation aims to understand selective cation transport, which can benefit lithium extraction from geothermal brines – an area of importance in developing domestic lithium sources for battery production to meet U.S. energy storage demands.

    The Geise lab develops polymers – materials composed of large molecules made of repeating subunits – to design advanced membranes for clean energy and clean water technologies. The polymer membranes are engineered to control small-molecule transport for ion separation and desalination.

    ChemE Represents at SWE’s Fall High School Visitation Weekend

    October 18, 2022


    Department of Chemical Engineering students and faculty were in the thick of activity on Saturday, Oct. 15, when the Society of Women Engineers at the University of Virginia hosted its fall High School Visitation. The society – also known as SWE at UVA – hosts the event each semester.

    More than 100 female and non-binary high school students from throughout Virginia spent the day at the UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science taking part in lab tours, an engineering majors fair, design activities and a panel discussion. The event’s activities give the students a look at different engineering fields as well as the engineering design process, and can help the students decide if they would like to pursue STEM in the future, according to the SWE website.

    Representing chemical engineering were fourth-year undergraduate student Lexi Cuomo (pictured above, from left), third-year undergraduate Sunya Qamar, Ph. D. student Meaghan Yant and professor Roseanne Ford. Other faculty members, including assistant professor George Prpich and associate professor Kyle Lampe – both regular contributors to the fall and spring High School Visitation days – gave presentations and opened their labs for tours and demonstrations.

    CHE’s Geoff Geise Invited to Inaugural U.S.-Africa Frontiers of Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium

    October 15, 2022

    Associate professor of chemical engineering Geoff Geise (pictured in the second row, fourth from left) was invited to be a delegate at the first U.S.-Africa Frontiers of Science, Engineering and Medicine Symposium hosted by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and the African Academy of Sciences.

    The meeting was held Oct. 12-14 in Nairobi, Kenya. Geise was one of the less than 10% of nearly 900 applicants to receive an invitation.

    The symposium sessions were designed to explore the frontiers of research in the fields of artificial intelligence, materials science, biodiversity, climate change and food security, and infectious diseases. To meet a goal of bringing together researchers from many different disciplines, organizers emphasized having participants whose research falls within broader applications of these disciplines.

    According the symposium website, organizers created the meeting to “enhance the scientific exchange and dialogue among young researchers in African countries and the United States, including the African science diaspora, and through this interaction, facilitate research collaboration within and beyond the region.”

    Geise presented research about the use of polymer materials to address water purification challenges facing the African continent.

    “I highlighted efforts to develop structure-property relationships to inform engineering of advanced water filtration membranes and materials for critical resource recovery, and I presented work related to advanced manufacturing of polymer membranes,” Geise said.

    “My presentation contributed to the cross-cutting themes of advanced manufacturing of materials and of technologies that contribute to addressing broader climate challenges facing the world.”

    NSF Grant Funds Work Toward Improved Catalyst Designs

    October 14, 2022


    Bill Epling, department chair and Alice M. and Guy A. Wilson Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Chris Paolucci, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, have teamed up on a new project to study the performance of metal-exchanged zeolites under varying reaction conditions.

    Metal-exchanged zeolites are common catalysts used in myriad environmental applications, such as CO2 capture and mitigation of diesel engine exhaust emissions.

    The resulting insights from Epling’s (principal investigator) and Paolucci’s (co-PI) work will lead to improved catalyst designs enabling more efficient use of expensive noble metals, improved energy efficiency of catalytic processes, and increases in catalyst durability.

    The project, “Atoms to nanoparticles to atoms – predicting evolving catalyst activity under inherently transient conditions,” is funded by a $422,695 grant from the National Science Foundation.

    Ph.D. Students Elevate Game for Seminar Series

    September 24, 2022


    Every year the CHE Graduate Board hosts the Summer Grad Student Seminar Series, in which Ph.D. students and post-doctoral researchers are invited to present their research to peers and faculty. The series is an opportunity to practice presentation skills and receive valuable feedback.

    For 2022, the board introduced a new award process to determine the top three presentations based on the scoring and feedback submitted by seminar attendees. Participation in the seminar series was once again excellent, with 14 presentations.

    The winners and their projects were:

    1stMark Bannon (Rachel Letteri lab), Esterified Peptide Prodrugs for Exosomal Hitchiking

    2ndCharlie Leroux (Geoffrey Geise and Gary Koenig labs), Highly conductive branched copolymer membrane for non-aqueous redox flow battery applications

    3rdSammy Fieser (Joshua Choi lab), Ytterbium-doped cesium lead chloride perovskite powder as an x-ray scintillator

    Dean’s Fellows Kept Research Rolling Through Summer

    August 18, 2022

    This summer, three chemical engineering majors worked full time as Dean’s Undergraduate Engineering Research Fellows through a new initiative created by UVA Engineering Dean Jennifer West. The program provides wages for undergraduates to continue working in faculty labs during the summer.

    In professor Roseanne Ford’s lab, rising fourth-year student Alexandra Cresci spent the summer trying to determine how quickly the Vibrio fischeri microorganism, a bacterium, breaks down microplastics in groundwater. Specifically, she measured the rates at which Vibrio fischeri attaches to the microplastic in correlation with different amounts of surface weathering.

    “My research findings will determine the optimal roughness properties of the microplastic for bacteria attachment to advise the design of future plastic products,” Cresci said.