WPI Professor Named One of the New Faces of Engineering by the National Science Foundation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE/February 15, 2006
Contact: WPI Media Relations, +1-508-831-5609
WORCESTER, Mass., February 15, 2006 -- Jennifer L. Wilcox, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), is representing the National Science Foundation in New Faces of Engineering 2006, an annual tribute to the nation's top engineers sponsored by the Engineers Week Foundation. Wilcox, the only honoree from New England, is also the only college or university faculty member and one of only five women included. As a result of this honor, Wilcox is featured, along with 15 other engineers representing national engineering societies and federal agencies, in an ad running in USA Today in conjunction with National Engineers Week, Feb. 19-25, and on the Engineers Week Web site (www.eweek.org).
Wilcox focuses her research on finding ways to eliminate toxic metals, such as mercury, arsenic, and selenium, from the gases emitted by coal-fired power plants. She joined the WPI faculty in 2004 and quickly won the NSF CAREER Award, the agency's most prestigious honor for young faculty members, Wilcox uses a combination of molecular modeling and laboratory experiments to unravel the complex chemical reactions that occur in the highly volatile environment inside the smokestacks of power plants. The aim is to identify ways to trap the metals or convert them to benign compounds before they are released into the atmosphere as pollutants.
In her innovative chemical modeling work, Wilcox uses "ab initio" (or first principals) quantum mechanical calculations to quantify the complex interactions of molecules in chemical reactions. The technique eliminates some of the weaknesses inherent in studying chemical interactions in the laboratory. The predictions she makes through modeling can then be verified through experimentation. In addition to using this approach to study the chemistry of power plant flue gases, she is assisting other researchers at WPI in developing molecular sieves that can selectively remove harmful organic compounds from drinking water.
Wilcox also brings an innovative spirit to her classroom teaching. She recently taught a graduate course in molecular modeling. In that class, students were required to use the ab initio techniques to model specific chemical reactions and compare their results to published data on the same interactions. Several of those projects have been submitted as a manuscript to a scientific journal for publication. As part of her NSF CAREER Award, which supports her research on flue gases, she is developing innovative high school outreach programs and experimenting with teaching techniques that include having her students serve as guest lecturers in their own classes.
Wilcox earned her Ph.D. in chemical engineering and her master's in chemistry at the University of Arizona, Tucson, in 2004, and her B.A. in mathematics at Wellesley College in 1998. Prior to earning her graduate degrees, she worked for a year as an environmental scientist at Enviro Engineering in Tucson. She taught algebra and chemistry at Pima Community College in Tucson while attending the University of Arizona. An avid runner and accomplished marathoner, she competed in four marathons in 2004-05, including the Boston Marathon, and placed fourth in the female category in the Maine Marathon.
About Engineers Week
Engineers Week, a coalition of more than 75 engineering, professional, and technical societies, along with more than 50 corporations and government agencies, was founded in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers. The program is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers among young students and by promoting pre-college literacy in math and science. The organization also raises public understanding and appreciation of engineers' contributions to society. Each year, the Engineers Week Foundation asks its members to nominate young colleagues who have shown outstanding abilities and leadership in their chosen discipline. From that list, a select few are chosen as the year's New Faces, a group that reflects the excitement and vigor of the profession. Engineers Week, February 19-25, 2006, is co-chaired by the Society of Women Engineers and Northrop Grumman Corporation.
About Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Founded in 1865, WPI was one of the nation's first engineering and technological universities. Its 18 academic departments offer more than 50 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science, engineering, technology, management, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. WPI's world-class faculty work with students in a number of cutting-edge research areas, leading to breakthroughs and innovations in such fields as biotechnology, fuel cells, information security, and nanotechnology. Students also have the opportunity to make a difference in communities and organizations around the world through the university's innovative Global Perspectives Program, at more than 20 project centers throughout North America and Central America, Africa, Australia, Asia, and Europe.