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.

    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.

    UVA Team to Compete in Final Round of DOE’s Clean-Energy Technology Competition

    August 11, 2022


    A research team led by University of Virginia chemical engineering associate professors Geoffrey Geise and Gary Koenig and assistant professor Gaurav “Gino” Giri is one of five teams moving on to the third and final phase of the American-Made Geothermal Lithium Extraction Prize.

    Geise, Koenig and Giri, along with their industry partner PowerTech Water – who together make up Team TELEPORT – will compete for one of three awards from the $2 million final prize pool.

    The Geothermal Lithium Extraction Prize, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, is designed to speed development of technologies for direct extraction of lithium from geothermal brines, which are a byproduct of geothermal energy production in California’s Salton Sea region. Lithium is a critical material in batteries for electric vehicles and grid-scale electricity storage.

    While the United States currently depends almost entirely on other countries for its lithium supply, it’s believed the Salton Sea area has the potential to produce more than 600,000 tons of lithium per year, according to a DOE news release. Such production could support domestic needs and turn the United States into a leading lithium exporter, the release said.

    “Using brines already produced by geothermal energy presents a solution because it is an environmentally friendly process that yields lithium,” the release said.

    As finalists, Team TELEPORT – named for the team’s project title, Targeted Extraction of Lithium with Electroactive Particles for Recovery Technology – will receive $280,000 to use over the next 12 months to fabricate and test a prototype for presentation to a panel of expert reviewers. The three winners will be announced in fall 2023.

    NMCF Director Jim Howe Retires

    July 25, 2022

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    NMCF Director Jim Howe has trained hundreds of students to utilize transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and high-resolution scanning-TEM at the University of Virginia. He is shown here with Ph.D. student Niquana Smith.

    With his retirement from UVa, Professor Jim Howe has stepped down as Director of the UVa's Nanoscale Materials Characterization Facility (NMCF), a position he has held for more than 18 years. During his tenure, the NMCF has grown significantly in both instrumentation and personnel. The facility is now host to two state-of-the-art scanning transmission electron microscopes (STEMs) for atomic-resolution imaging and X-ray and energy-loss analysis at the atomic level, two scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) for high-resolution imaging and compositional characterization, a combined focused ion beam (FIB)-SEM for preparation of TEM samples and cross-sectional analysis, three X-ray diffractometers (XRDs) for identification and characterization of crystal structures, a mapping X-ray photoelectron spectrometer (XPS) for determination of material surface composition and chemistry, a combined confocal Raman spectrometer/atomic force microscope (AFM) to provide chemical analysis in combination of surface structure, an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer (XRF) for sensitive measurement of bulk composition, a Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer (FT-IR) for chemical bond analysis, and a complete suite of optical instruments and metallographic preparation facilities for determining the microstructure of materials. At the same time, NMCF staff has risen from a single member to a team of five professionals with varied characterization and analytical expertise.  Jim organized facility operation during the renovation of Jesser Hall and oversaw the development of remote training modules for instrumentation during the COVID shutdown. His strong advocacy, positive outlook, and scientific leadership within the NMCF will be missed. A replacement Director has not yet been named.






    Anna Sviripa’s Research to Improve Industrial Process Wins Top Poster Prize at Catalysis Conference

    July 12, 2022

    Anna Sviripa recently won first place in the graduate student poster competition at the 2022 Gordon Research Conference on Catalysis.

    Sviripa, a Ph.D. student in assistant professor Chris Paolucci’s computational catalysis research group, presented her research, Bayesian Forcefield Driven Monte Carlo and Molecular Dynamics Simulations of O- and Cl-promoted Ag Surface Reconstruction.

    Ethylene epoxidation is a chemical reaction used in industry to produce ethylene oxide, an essential ingredient in the manufacture of detergents, solvents, plastics, etc. Different types of oxygen “promoters” are added to the silver catalyst to increase reaction selectivity, which is the formation of the desired product ethylene oxide and simultaneous decrease in the formation of carbon dioxide. Although this reaction has been studied for decades, several aspects of the reaction, including reaction mechanism and the state of the catalyst surface during the reaction, remain disputed in the literature, Sviripa said.

    Sviripa is using computer simulations to study the effects of changes that occur to the silver catalyst surface under reaction conditions relevant to industry. Her findings will be used to understand the ethylene epoxidation reaction mechanism with different types of oxygen and promoter effects on ethylene oxide selectivity.

    Due to the large scale of these processes, even a small increase in reaction selectivity will make a significant difference in industry, Sviripa said. More efficient ethylene oxide production has the potential to reduce the formation of carbon dioxide, a potent greenhouse gas.