Teaching and Research Interests

Page Contents
1 - Research Interests
2 - Teaching Interests: Summary
3 - Teaching Interests: Discussion
      Philosophy
      Approach
1 - Research Interests

My primary research interests are concerned with the design and operation of chemical process units.  The first fundamental aspect of my work involves the development a thermodynamic model and the assembly of the database required to design separation processes involving highly nonideal systems.  The operation-oriented aspect of my work involves the development of numerical methods to analyze properly industrial plant operation, to determine plant sensitivity to the fundamental data upon which it is based and to predict the reliability of a process to meet its objectives subject to uncertainties in the principal parameters.

Separating azeotropic and isomeric mixtures on an industrial scale is costly.  Sound phase equilibria data are required for the accurate development of economic process designs.  The measurement and analysis of the phase equilibria with the experimental designs soundly rooted in industrial end-use criteria is one aspect of my work.

The separation of the volatile organic chemicals (VOC's) from wastewater and from water bearing latex streams is becoming environmentally important.  This separation is particularly difficult due to the presence of organic and inorganic solids in the wastewater.  Development in two areas is required.  First, fundamental measurements in the infinite dilute region are required.  Second, a thermodynamic model capable of describing the adsorbed, liquid and vapor phases suitable for process design applications is required.  These are the principal goals of this aspect of my research.

The control and on-line optimization of an industrial chemical process unit require an accurate mathematical model of the process.  Plant performance analysis is defined as the proper identification, reconciliation, rectification and interpretation of plant performance with the goal of improving understanding, control, design and economic efficiency.  Engineers have developed models and estimated values of parameters without proper recognizing the underlying deficiencies in the plant measurements.  This estimation has led to models that depend on the engineers' perceptions.  While it has, in some cases been satisfactory, oftentimes, the analysis is inadequate.  Application of a procedure that formally takes into account the information in the operating data, the data, their uncertainties and the distributions for the determination of important plant parameters will lead to better understanding of operations.  This, subsequently, will lead to improved, more economical plant operation and design.  The development of this procedure is another aspect of my research work.

The uncertainty in the design and operation of a chemical plant is related to the uncertainty in the fundamental database that was used to design the plant.  The design-data relationship had received little research attention even though entire plants as well as individual pieces of equipment have failed to operate as designed because of uncertainties in the database.  Proper sensitivity analysis in the area of computer-aided design should become a part of the process design procedure.  Further, process operating parameters along with uncertainty in the underlying data base affect the reliability of process units to meet capacity, recovery and purity requirements.  Estimation of reliability is hampered by the complexity of process simulation mathematics.  Development of sensitivity analysis and design reliability criteria is another aspect of my research interests.

My secondary research interest focuses upon the safety performance of bicycles.  High performance racing bicycles use tires that are glued to the rim.  Despite the frequent and catastrophic adhesive failures and subsequent injuries to the rider which occur in professional and Olympic competition, the performance of the adhesive under various tire - rim - adhesive combinations at various temperatures, loads and other operating conditions has not been studied.  Further, the bicycle industry has been plagued with litigation as bicycle componentry including tire adhesive has allegedly failed.  Sophisticated equipment is being sold to the unsophisticated public.  Even though bicycles are an alternative, low-energy form of transportation, it is notoriously under- capitalized and cannot withstand repeated attacks through the courts.  The purpose of this research is to develop performance guidelines for adhesive and bicycle componentry performance to maximize the success in competition and to maximize the safety of the riding public.

My research program is founded upon a background in phase equilibria, statistics and industrial process design; and it addresses primarily industrial needs with the goal of improving engineering technology and plant economics.

Teaching Interests: Summary

Practicing the art of chemical engineering is fascinating, rewarding and fun.  Coupled with this practice are grave responsibilities: chemical engineers must avoid placing an unsuspecting public at risk.  Engineers must be creative in developing solutions but must be able to evaluate them in an uncertain world with uncertain information.  My goal is to decompartmentalize students' knowledge of the natural, mathematical and fundamental chemical engineering sciences so that students can bring all of their skills to bear on problems and can deal with uncertainty creatively and ethically with confidence.

My goal in teaching is to maximize the communication of the beauty and responsibilities of engineering while trying to minimize the discomfort that the uncertainty, synthesis development and evaluation cause.  I structure my classes recognizing the diverse preferred learning styles of students and practice my Golden Rules of Approach.  I believe that significant effort is required on my part to lead the way to the level of understanding and confidence that I believe my students can attain.  Within the University environment, I believe that nothing is more important than teaching my students.

Teaching Interests: Discussion

Philosophy

Engineering is a problem solving profession.  It is dedicated to transforming the materials and forces of nature into useful products for society.  It is dedicated to doing this transformation in an efficient, economic, elegant, safe manner.  The foundation of engineering is in the natural, mathematical and engineering sciences.  However, these sciences are largely certain, if not in actuality, in their presentation to and practice by students.  The practice of engineering, however, is uncertain. It requires creativity, synthesis and evaluation in the transformation of the materials and forces of nature.  It requires that the practicing engineer have confidence in dealing with uncertainty, making decisions in gray areas where there are no absolutely correct solutions.

The education system during the early years of our students' development rewards the ability to get the single, right answer with no uncertainty.  Most engineering education experiences do not prepare students for synthesis and evaluation.  The system rewards students who focus upon procedures.  Students compartmentalize their knowledge, as a matter of survival, but do not integrate it.  In general, they have not been given the tools that force them to integrate their knowledge.  However, the professional practice of engineering requires that students bring all of their knowledge to bear on problems, to have their knowledge decompartmentalized.  Without the decompartmentalization and integration in school, students:

My philosophy in teaching any class, but in particular in teaching design and safety, is that engineering is an art requiring fundamental knowledge, creativity and evaluation.  These aspects must be practiced in order to sharpen skills.  My goals in class are:

I want to challenge them to be their best.  I want them uncertain as to the next step during their development but, in the end, confident in their abilities to practice, to learn and to achieve.

Approach

My approach to teaching incorporates these goals into the classroom.  These have the potential of making students very uncomfortable because they are then in an environment that they generally have not seen in a classroom but one which emulates professional practice.  It is substantially easier for them to follow a text, to find the procedure within a chapter, and to solve a problem at the end in a single pass.  It is very uncomfortable for them to have a skeleton presented but for them to flesh that skeleton out.  This is not a direction that most would go on their own.  Therefore, effective, enthusiastic, enjoyable communication is the central focus of my approach to teaching.

In order to achieve this focus, I must recognize that the students have a broad spectrum of preferred learning styles.  Failure to present information in their preferred style hampers communication and limits the attainment of my goals.  Students tend to be sensors (hands-on), visual (figures, graphs not words), inductive (specific to general), active (talk, demonstrate), reflective (internal assimilation) and sequential.  However, a large percentage of the student population exhibit degrees of the other preferred learning styles (intuitive, auditory, deductive, global).  A simple lecture format, a style that does not match any learning-style set, is inadequate to achieve my teaching goals.

I try to establish always the relevance of the subject.  I try to balance facts with the abstract.  I try to use figures, graphs and sketches to convey engineering practice.  I try to give students time to think in class.  I try to give students time to discuss among themselves and with me the topic in class.  I always give open-ended problems but which include practice of fundamental skills as well as aspects of synthesis and evaluation.  I try to always avoid sloppiness in my presentations.

I believe that my goals and theirs are the same.  Students are adults who worked hard to get to my classes.  They are bright, motivated and willing to work.  They are forgiving and realistic in their expectations. They have feelings.  Perhaps easiest to forget, they have other demands on their time: overloading them decreases my effectiveness and their level of achievement.  Recognizing these traits requires that I optimally prepare classes and deliver information utilizing my experience and theirs to communicate.

Finally, I have developed and adopted my own Golden Rules of Approach.  These are:

This approach takes significant effort.  It takes significant time for lecture/presentation development.  It takes significant time to develop problems which convey the beauty of engineering, provide the students with necessary experience and minimize the time that they must spend on the material.

I aspire to achieving the goals outlined above.  I use the methods presented here to maximize communication so students can achieve a higher level of understanding and be prepared to practice the art of engineering.