During early September Professors Carol Hall and Phil Westmoreland made major invited presentations at Vanderbilt University and at the 21st International Congress of Chemical and Process Engineering (CHISA), respectively. CHISA is organized by the European Federation of Chemical Engineering.
Dr. Hall gave the 2014 John R. and Donna S. Hall (no relation) Lecture at the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering. Established in 2002, the lecture series "allows Vanderbilt engineering students to hear renowned engineers from universities and agencies address engineering topics of particular interests."
In her talk, A Computational Study of the Thermodynamic and Kinetic Origins of Alzheimer's and Related Diseases, Dr. Hall described current research thinking about fibrils, chemical structures found in brain plaques. Plaques contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and prion diseases.
She also described her research, which focuses on applying statistical thermodynamics and molecular-level computer simulation to topics involving macromolecules or complex fluids. In this case the work is designed to elucidate how and why proteins assemble into fibrils.
In his plenary keynote lecture, "Making Bio-oils: A Microcosm of the Opportunities and Challenges for a Golden Age of ChE," Dr. Westmoreland drew on results from his research on making oil from woody biomass to frame an optimistic picture of the profession's future (his group has found key elementary reactions that explain the pyrolysis kinetics involved) in a coming "golden age." He noted that several factors in two previous golden ages for our profession are evident today.
The first age, 1915 - 1929, saw a geographical broadening in the chemical industry, a growing demand for petroleum-based fuels, and emergence of the modern profession through the unit operations concept.
In the 15 years after World War II, high demand for petroleum products spurred the second golden age. Other factors included widespread development of synthetic polymers, drugs, and other products. The profession also prospered because of educational advances in applied mathematics, physics, and reactor engineering.
Contributing factors to the golden age Professor Westmoreland sees developing today include new sources for fuel and chemicals such as hydrofracking and biomass, and applied chemical biology that's led to new medicines, medical tools and practices, and biocompatible and biomimetic materials. Dramatic advances in computers, networks, and mobile devices have already transformed computing into a powerful cyber infrastructure of data, design and communications that's yielded 3-D printing and manufacturing of ultra-small computer chips.
Chemical engineers are also well prepared to help determine the best balance between use of bio-oils and use of oil and gas from abundant new sources with the ultimate goal of limiting future climate change. There are many other aspects of today's life and technology that position chemical engineers to be leaders in society.
Requests to make invited presentations are usually extended to individuals who are widely respected for accomplishments in their field of expertise. Congratulations to Professors Hall and Westmoreland for these recognitions!