Chemical Engineering


D. DiBiasio, Associate Professor and Department Head; Ph.D., Purdue University. Engineering education, teaching and learning, assessment

T. A. Camesano, Associate Professor; Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University. Bacterial adhesion and interaction forces, biopolymers, bacterial/natural organic matter interactions

W. M. Clark, Associate Professor; Ph.D., Rice University. Separations, bioseparation, two-phase electrophoresis, filtration using inorganic membranes

R. Datta, Professor; Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara. Catalysis and reaction engineering as applied to fuel cells and hydrogen

N.A. Deskins, Assistant Professor; Ph.D., Purdue University. Energy production, nanomaterials research and development, pollution control and abatement, catalysis and chemical kinetics, and computational chemistry

A. G. Dixon, Professor; Ph.D., University of Edinburgh. Transport in chemical reactions, applications of CFD to catalyst and reactor design, microreactors

N. K. Kazantzis, Associate Professor; Ph.D, University of Michigan. Analysis, sustainable design and control of chemical processes, environmental and energy systems, process safety and chemical risk analysis, process performance monitoring and industrial risks

Y. H. Ma, Professor; Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Synthesis, characterization, and application of inorganic membranes, including composite Pd and Pd-alloy porous stainless steel membranes for hydrogen separation

R. W. Thompson, Professor; Ph.D., Iowa State University. Applied kinetics and reactor analysis, especially as applied to the analysis of particulate systems

H. S. Zhou, Assistant Professor; Ph.D., University of California-Irvine. Bioanotechnology, bioseparations, micro- and nano-bioelectronics, bioMEMS, microfluidics, polymer thin films, surface modification, microelectronic and photonic packaging


W. R. Moser, Professor Emeritus; Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology

R. E. Wagner, Professor Emeritus; Ph.D., Princeton University

A.H. Weiss, Professor Emeritus; Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Research Interests

The Chemical Engineering Department’s research effort is concentrated in the following major areas: nanotechnology/ nanomaterials, environmental engineering, energy research, bioengineering, process control and safety, and reaction engineering.

Bioengineering research in the department focuses on biomaterials, cell-surface interactions, development of DNA-based biosensors, and modeling of HIV interactions with the immune system. Environmental Engineering encompasses air pollution and pollution prevention in chemical processes, environmentally benign chemical reactor technology, fuel cell technology, and molecular modeling of catalyst materials. Process control involves analysis and control of nonlinear processes. Master’s and doctoral candidates’ research in these areas involves the application of all fundamental aspects of chemical engineering, as well as interdisciplinary projects that encompass environmental engineering and science, biomedical engineering, materials science, and math.

Of the 20 to 25 graduate students, approximately 75% are Ph.D. candidates. Research groups tend to be small; because of this, students find considerable interaction with faculty advisors as well as among various research groups. In such an atmosphere, graduate students have exceptional opportunities to contribute to their field. Studies may be pursued in the following areas:


Catalyst and Reaction Engineering

Research in this area is centered on the physical and chemical behavior of fluids, especially gases, in contact with homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysts. Projects include diffusion through porous solids, multicomponent adsorption, mechanism studies; microkinetics, synthesis and characterization of catalysts; catalytic reformers; heat and mass transfer in catalytic reactors; and reactor dynamics.

Zeolite Science and Technology

Research in the area of zeolite science involves synthesis, characterization and applications of molecular sieve zeolites. In particular, developing an understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of zeolite nucleation and crystal growth in hydrothermal systems is of interest. Uses of zeolites as liquid and gas phase adsorbents, and as catalysts, are being studied. Incorporation of zeolites into membranes for separations is being investigated due to zeolites’ very regular pore dimensions on the molecular level.

Biological Engineering


Full realization of biotechnology’s potential to produce useful products will require the engineering of efficient and, in some cases, large-scale production and recovery processes. Research in the bioseparations laboratory is aimed at understanding and exploiting the thermodynamic and transport properties of biological materials such as genetic materials underlying their separation, to improve existing purification methods and develop new separation techniques. Recent projects include partitioning in aqueous two-phase systems, affinity partitioning, extractive fermentation, filtration using inorganic membranes, and a new large-scale electrophoretic separation method.

Lab-on-chip and BioMEMS

Research in the area of lab on chip and BioMEMS involves developing a fundamental understanding of microfluidics transport and surface reaction kinetics in the micro-and nano-domain to design and fabricate chip-based bioseparation and biosensing devices and application of bionanotechnology for rapid and sensitive molecular diagnostics. Novel nanomaterials for biomedical applications are of interest.

Bacterial Adhesion to Biomaterials

The mechanisms governing bacterial adhesion to biomaterials, including catheters and other implanted devices, are poorly understood at this time. However, it is known that the presence of a biofilm on a biomaterial surface will lead to infection and cause an implanted device to fail. Often, removal of the device is the only option since microbes attached to a surface are highly resistant to antibiotics. Work in our laboratory is aimed at characterizing bacterial interaction forces and adhesion to biomaterials, and developing antibacterial coatings for biomaterials. We are using novel techniques based on atomic force microscopy (AFM) to quantify the nanoscale adhesion forces between bacteria and surfaces.

Process Analysis, Performance Monitoring, Control and Safety

Current research efforts lie in the broader areas of nonlinear process analysis, performance monitoring, control and safety. In particular, the following thematic areas may be identified in our current research plan: (1) synthesis of robust optimal digital feedback regulators for nonlinear processes in the presence of model uncertainty; (2) design of state estimators for digital process performance monitoring and fault detection/ diagnosis purposes; (3) chemical risk assessment and management with applications to process safety; (4) development of the appropriate software tools for the effective digital implementation of the above process control, monitoring and risk assessment schemes.

Environmental and Sustainable Engineering

Bacterial and Biopolymer Interactions in the Aquatic Environment

Our interests are directed to identifying the roles bacteria and bacterial extracellular polymers play in environmental processes. Experimental work is focused on characterizing biocolloid systems at the nanoscale. The main areas of interest are in studying the nanoscale interactions between bacterial surface molecules and natural organic materials in the environment. Applications of this work involve natural and engineered systems, and include improving in situ bioremediation efforts, prevention of water contamination with pathogenic microbes, and the design of better treatment options for wastewater.

Air & Water Remediation

Research is being carried out to evaluate the use of hydrophobic molecular sieves to clean air and water contaminated with organic compounds. Benefits of using hydrophobic molecular sieves have been demonstrated, and our investigations in the laboratory have been confirmed by Molecular Dynamics calculations as well as equilibrium calculations using an equation of state for fluids confined in nano-meter sized pores.

Hydrogen Fuel

Hydrogen may be the energy currency of the future due to environmental benefits and potential use of fuel cells. Palladium and palladium alloy membranes and membrane reactors are being developed that produce pure hydrogen in a single step, simplifying the multi-step reforming processes that require additional separation processes to produce pure hydrogen.

Fuel Cell Technology

Fuel cells have potential as clean and efficient power sources for automobiles and stationary appliances. Research is being conducted on developing, characterizing and modeling of fuel cells that are robust for these consumer applications. This includes development of CO-tolerant anodes, higher temperature proton-exchange membranes and direct methanol fuel cells. In addition, reformers are being investigated to produce hydrogen from liquid fuels.

Molecular Modeling of Catalytic Reactions

Computer technologies have advanced to the point of being able to simulate chemical reactions and transformations with molecular detail and high accuracy. This is useful for catalytic processes which may involve a number of reactions that are difficult to determine using experimental techniques. Research is being conducted in the areas of photocatalysis, industrial catalysis, and environmental catalysis, all with the goal of producing environmentally- safe energy and chemicals. Several types of materials are studied, including metals, metal oxides, and zeolites.

Programs of Study

Students have the opportunity to do creative work on state-of-the-art research projects as a part of their graduate study in chemical engineering. The program offers excellent preparation for rewarding careers in research, industry or education. Selection of graduate courses and thesis project is made with the aid of a faculty advisor with whom the student works closely. All graduate students participate in a seminar during each term of residence.

The master’s degree program in chemical engineering is concerned with the advanced topics of the field. While specialization is possible, most students are urged to advance their knowledge along a broad front. All students select a portion of their studies from core courses in mathematics, thermodynamics, reactor design, kinetics and catalysis, and transport phenomena. In addition, they choose courses from a wide range of elective. While a master’s degree can be obtained with coursework alone, most students carry on research terminating in a thesis.

In the doctoral program, a broad knowledge of chemical engineering topics is required for success in the qualifying examination. Beyond this point, more intensive specialization is achieved in the student’s field of research through coursework and thesis research.

Admission Requirements

An undergraduate degree in chemical engineering is preferred for master’s and doctoral degree applicants. Those with related backgrounds will also be considered, but may be required to complete prerequisite coursework in some areas.

Degree Requirements

For the M.S.

Thesis Option

A total of 30 credit hours is required, including 18 credit hours of coursework and at least 12 credit hours of thesis work. The coursework must include 15 credit hours of graduate level chemical engineering courses and 9 of these must be chosen from the core curriculum. A satisfactory oral seminar presentation must be given every year in residence.

Non-Thesis Option

A total of 30 credit hours is required, including a minimum of 24 credit hours in graduate level courses. At least 21 course credit hours must be in chemical engineering and 9 of these must be chosen from the core curriculum. A maximum of 6 credit hours of independent study under the faculty advisor may be part of the program.

For the Ph.D.

Upon completion of the comprehensive qualifying examination, candidates must present a research proposal in order to acquaint members of the faculty with the chosen research topic.

Chemical Engineering Laboratories and Centers

Biological Interaction Forces Laboratory

All of the experimental work in this lab is geared at characterizing microbiological and biological systems (bacterial cells, biopolymers, other types of cells, etc.) at the nanoscale. The main piece of equipment used is an atomic force microscope, which can operate in liquids or under ambient conditions. Computers with sophisticated image analysis software are used to quantify phenomena observed in the images. A laminar flow hood is used for working with sterile cultures with ample wet chemistry space to do preparative work.

Microfluidics and Biosensors Laboratory

The research work in this laboratory focuses on integrated microfluidic platform for biomedical applications. Finite element simulation is applied for the study of microfluidics transport and surface reaction kinetics and the design of chip based device. Fabrication of microfluidic biochip by micro/nano manufacturing technologies is of interest in this laboratory. Available equipments include ac impedance analyzer and surface plasmon resonance for the electrical and optical characterization of the biomolecules assembly at the chip surface. Novel micro-and nanomaterials and fabrication technology for neuron science and novel nanoassembly for petroleum purification are other two thrusts of interest.

Zeolite Crystallization Laboratory

This laboratory is equipped for hydrothermal syntheses of molecular sieve zeolites over a wide range of temperature, chemical composition and hydrodynamic conditions. The objective is to understand how zeolites nucleate and grow.

Synthesis results are characterized by optical and electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction and particle size analysis.

Heat and Mass Transfer Laboratory

This laboratory is mainly computational. Workstations are dedicated to the application of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to transport problems in chemical reaction engineering. Current research interests include simulation of flow and heat transfer in packed-bed reactors and membrane reactors. Capabilities also exist in this lab for simulation of gas dynamics in microchannels. Experimental facilities include the measurement of heat and mass transfer coefficients in packed columns.

Catalyst and Reaction Engineering Laboratory (CREL)

A large variety of equipment is available in CREL for catalyst preparation and characterization, and detailed kinetic studies. This includes various reactors such as several packed-bed reactors, a Parr reactor, a slurry reactor, a membrane reactor, a porous-walled tubular reactor and an adiabatic tubular reactor with several thermocouples for monitoring temperature. All necessary analytical instruments are also available, such as several microbalances, volumetric BET apparatus, mercury porosimeter, several gas chromatographs, a Perkin-Elmer GC-MS with Q-Mass 910 mass spectrometer, Nicolet Magna-IR 560 FTIR with DRIFT cell for catalyst surface characterization, Rosemount Chemiluminescence NO/NOx Analyzer NGA 2000 and a TEOM Series 1500 PMA Pulse Mass Analyzer for TPD/TGA experiments. Other available equipment in CREL includes hoods, several HPLC liquid feed pumps; several vacuum pumps; temperature, pressure and flow monitors and controllers, furnaces, vacuum oven, diffusion cell, and all necessary glassware and other laboratory supplies for catalyst preparation and testing. In addition, several Macintosh computers and PCs are available within the laboratory. The available equipment is used for the design, synthesis and characterization of novel catalytic materials, and for reactor analysis.

Fuel Cell Laboratory (FCL)

A 5 cm2 and a 25 cm2 proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell test station-complete with flow, pressure, humidity and temperature controllers, and an external electronic load (HP Model No. 6060B) with a power supply (Lambda LFS-46-5)-are available. In addition, a direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC) is available. A hot press, Carver Model C-along with other equipment for casting membranes and for fabricating membrane-electrode assemblies (MEAs) including catalyst preparation equipment-is available.

A cell for studying conductivity at different relative humidities and temperatures is available. Other equipment includes a Solartron SI 1260 AC Impedance Analyzer and a rotating disc electrode. The available equipment allows design and thorough characterization of new fuel cells, including cyclic voltammetry and frequency analysis.

Center for Inorganic Membrane Studies (CIMS)

The goals of the Center for Inorganic Membrane Studies are to develop industry and university collaboration for inorganic membrane research, and to promote and expand the science of inorganic membranes as a technological base for industrial applications through fundamental research. An interdisciplinary approach has been taken by the center to assemble all of the essential skills in synthesis, modeling, material characterization, diffusion measurements and general properties determinations of inorganic membranes. Current projects include dense Pd and Pd/ alloy membrane synthesis, and reactive membrane studies, fouling and transport studies, and characterization of membrane stability. Facilities including SEM with EDX , XRD, and several membrane testing units are available.

Fuel Cell Center (FCC)

The Fuel Cell Center is a University/ industry alliance comprising industrial members, faculty members, staff, and graduate and undergraduate students. The faculty members of FCC come from the various departments at WPI. The research is performed in the various laboratories of the faculty members. The industrial members represent companies or other organizations with interest in fuel cell technology, including fuel cell companies, automobile manufacturers, utilities, petroleum companies, chemical companies, catalysis companies, etc.

The objectives of the FCC are: (1) to perform research and development of fuel cells, fuel reformers and related components for mobile and stationary applications; (2) to educate graduate and undergraduate students in fuel cell technology; and (3) to facilitate technology transfer between the University and industry. The current projects include development of proton-exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells, direct methanol fuel cells (DMFCs), molten carbonate fuel cells (MCFCs), microbial fuel cells, fuel cell stacks, membrane reformers, microreformers, reformer catalysis, fuel cell electrocatalysis, composite proton-exchange membranes, inorganic membranes, and transport and reaction modeling.

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