Yi Hua (Ed) Ma, James Manning Professor of Chemical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), received the Chairman's Exemplary Faculty Prize today during the university’s 144th Commencement exercises. The tradition of awarding the prize, which honors WPI faculty members for overall excellence, was established in 2007 through the personal philanthropy of Donald K. Peterson '71, former chair of the WPI Board of Trustees, and is continued today by current Board Chair Stephen E. Rubin '74.
Unlike WPI's Board of Trustees' Awards, which recognize excellence in particular areas of faculty performance (teaching, research and scholarship, and advising), the Chairman's Exemplary Faculty Prize, in the amount of $10,000, recognizes and rewards faculty members who excel in all relevant areas of faculty performance. "They are the true exemplars of the Institute’s highest aspirations and most important qualities," WPI President Dennis Berkey noted as he introduced the award presentation.
For more than four decades, Ma has been at the vanguard of the quest for more abundant and more affordable sources of energy. An internationally recognized researcher and the founder of WPI's Center for Inorganic Membrane Studies, he has led programs that have garnered more than $13 million in external awards and produced more than 100 publications. They have included work that is helping set the stage for the hydrogen economy and the transformation of coal gas into a cleaner and more economically viable fuel for power generation.
Over the past 20 years, his focus has been membranes made from palladium, which can separate hydrogen from natural gas and other sources far less expensively than traditional methods. By learning to coat palladium on porous stainless steel, his team has been able to make thin, highly stable, and less expensive membranes. The innovation, which has earned Ma several patents and which was supported by the Department of Energy and Shell, is currently being commercialized.
More recently, Ma and his team, with funding from the Department of Energy, have been seeking to demonstrate that palladium membranes can help lower the cost of operating integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants and also isolate carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from coal gas, which is used as the primary fuel in these plants. Ma, who was head of WPI's Department of Chemical Engineering from 1979 to 1989, has actively engaged students in his work, advising 24 PhD recipients—more than any other WPI faculty member.
Ma's accomplishments have earned him numerous accolades. He is a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, which also presented him with its prestigious Institute Award for Excellence in Industrial Gases Technology. Sessions at an AIChE annual meeting and an issue of the Journal of the Taiwan Institute of Chemical Engineers have been dedicated to him. WPI has honored him with its Sigma Xi Senior Faculty Award for Research Excellence, its Board of Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Scholarship, and its William R. Grogan Award for Support of the Mission of WPI. He holds a BS from National Taiwan University, an MS from the University of Notre Dame, and an ScD from MIT.