Assistant Professor Gaurav “Gino” Giri is the 2019 winner of the Robert A. Moore Jr. Award in Chemical Engineering.
The eponymous award was established by a 1959 University of Virginia chemical engineering graduate to honor a faculty member whose teaching and research “best represents the interest of industry and best prepares students for industrial careers.” Moore, who also was the 1997 Brent Halsey Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chemical Engineering, created a $100,000 endowed fund for the award. The endowment rewards professors who create experiences in the classroom or through research projects that enhance students’ readiness to work and lead in industry.
“I highly value my UVA education,” Moore told UVA Today when the award’s first recipient was named in 2007. “It’s important to learn about industry and management as part of a comprehensive engineering education; I established this award to honor faculty members who are integrating an industry perspective into their laboratories and classrooms.”
Giri earned his B.S. from the California Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. at Stanford. From 2013 to 2016, he held a post-doctoral research appointment at MIT, where he focused on the use of microfluidics and continuous flow processing for the pharmaceutical industry. At UVA, the Giri Lab — which comprises a sizeable group of enthusiastic graduate and undergraduate students — is investigating three primary research tracks: metal organic frameworks, crystallization of organic small molecules and understanding crystallization fundamentals.
“Our aim is to use innovative crystallization control to create novel pharmaceutical, energy and sensing applications,” Giri said, adding that they are pursuing these directions through collaborations with industry and governmental agencies.
Giri also is the founder and chief technology officer of Hava Inc., a social entrepreneurship venture funded by a Global Research Programs of Distinction grant from UVA’s Center for Global Inquiry and Innovation. He has teamed with Balashankar Mulloth, an assistant professor of public policy in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, to develop and market affordable air filters for individual use. The filters will be offered in areas where air pollution is a health threat — starting with cities in his native country, Nepal.
The project combines applied technology with a business approach to address a social problem — one that is spreading globally as climate change affects air quality. The masks pair metal organic frameworks, a relatively new material, with the everyday cloth masks people already use throughout the world. The material is highly porous, but the holes are small enough to prevent particles from passing through.
“Combined with chemistry that can stop harmful gases, the masks will offer far more effective protection than plain cloth — for about 20 cents apiece,” Giri said. “A portion of the Moore Award will be used to study the applicability of these filters for real-world applications in Nepal.”
He also is teaching a course he developed on solution-based crystallization. The class, Crystallization Processes in Chemical Engineering, was designed with an eye toward industrial relevance for graduating fourth-year undergraduates. Students who have taken the course have gone on to find employment with companies such as Merck and ExxonMobil, Giri said.
The crystallization course and his work on Hava are among the reasons Giri is deserving of this year’s Robert A. Moore Jr. Award, said department chair and professor of chemical engineering William Epling.
“Gino’s exemplary teaching helps our students gain knowledge, and his application-oriented focus helps them apply that knowledge. His course on crystallization contains a strong mix of both aspects,” Epling said.
“With Hava, he is transferring lab research — in this case, involving metal organic frameworks — into putting a tangible product in people’s hands where it can make a real difference in their lives. The example he sets and the outcomes of the work he is doing provides invaluable experience for our students.”