Duncan & Suzanne Mellichamp Emerging Leader Lectures

November 29, 2023
Victor Zavala – University of Wisconsin - Madison

October 12, 2022
Kathryn Whitehead – Carnegie Mellon University

October 15, 2019
Yuriy Román-Leshkov – MIT

November 13, 2018
Lydia Contreras – University of Texas-Austin

February 15, 2018
V. Faye McNeill – Columbia University

October 25, 2016
Jeffrey Rimer – University of Houston

In 2015, Duncan & Suzanne Mellichamp generously endowed a new lecture series in the Department of Chemical Engineering to highlight up and coming Chemical Engineers. The Mellichamp Emerging Leader Lecture features up and coming researchers in a wide variety of Chemical Engineering disciplines supported by the generous endowment. 

Duncan Mellichamp was a founding member of the UCSB Chemical Engineering Department faculty, starting the process dynamics and control programs in 1966-67. He earned his B.S. degree from Georgia Tech, and Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Purdue. Mellichamp is author of more than 100 research publications. He co-wrote the award-winning undergraduate textbook, “Process Dynamics and Control” in 1989, now appearing in its 4th ed. He edited “Real-Time Computing with Applications to Data Acquisition and Control” in 1983.


OCTOBER 29, 2023

Victor Zavala

Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering
University of Wisconsin - Madison


BIO: Victor M. Zavala is the Baldovin-DaPra Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a senior computational mathematician in the Mathematics and Computer Science Division at Argonne National Laboratory. He holds a B.Sc. degree from Universidad Iberoamericana and a Ph.D. degree from Carnegie Mellon University, both in chemical engineering. He is on the editorial board of the Journal of Process Control, Mathematical Programming Computation, and Computers and Chemical Engineering. He is a recipient of NSF and DOE Early Career awards and of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. His research interests include computational modeling, statistics, control, and optimization. 

TITLE: Systems Engineering Approaches for Scalable Plastic Waste Management

ABSTRACT : Plastics are essential materials in modern life, but it is no secret that they generate a wide range of environmental problems. In this talk, we discuss how systems engineering tools can help identify scalable recycling/upcycling strategies for handling plastic waste. Specifically, we show how systems engineering can help integrate molecular simulations, computational catalysis, techno-economic analysis, lifecycle assessment, and supply chain optimization to identify processes (and entire infrastructures) that can convert vast, distributed, and complex plastic waste streams (e.g., post-consumer mixtures and multi-layer films) into value-added products. We also discuss how such integrative frameworks can help design plastic materials/products that are inherently more sustainable and can help design incentives/policies that aim to change consumer and industry behavior. Our discussion will aim to emphasize how "systems thinking” is essential for addressing pressing sustainability problems, as such problems integrate products, technologies, supply chains, and stakeholders at a global scale.


OCTOBER 12, 2022

Kathryn Whitehead

Professor of Chemical Engineering
Carnegie Mellon University


BIO: Kathryn A. Whitehead is a Professor in the Departments of Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering (courtesy) at Carnegie Mellon University. Her lab develops drug delivery systems for RNA, proteins, and applications in maternal and infant health. She obtained bachelor and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering (Univ. of Delaware; Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) before an NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship at MIT. Prof. Whitehead is the recipient of numerous awards, including the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, the DARPA Director’s Fellowship, and the ASEE Curtis W. McGraw Research Award. She has also received the Controlled Release Society’s Young Investigator Award and served on its Board of Directors. Prof. Whitehead is an elected Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering and the Controlled Release Society. In 2021, she gave a TED talk on the lipid nanoparticles (i.e., “fat balls”) used in the in the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines. Her publications have been cited over 9,000 times, and her patents have been licensed and sublicensed for reagent and therapeutic use.

TITLE: From Farm to Pharmacy: A Strawberry-Derived Solution to Oral Protein Delivery

ABSTRACT: Oral delivery is the most patient-friendly mode of drug administration. Unfortunately, it is not possible for protein and other macromolecular drugs because the gastrointestinal tract is not permeable to undigested large molecules. Although many chemical permeation enhancers have been identified that improve the intestinal absorption of biologics, they often cause cytotoxicity or damage the intestinal mucosa. To address this issue, we sought to identify a permeation enhancer derived from fruits and vegetables, hypothesizing that the compounds found in natural foods would be well-tolerated by the gastrointestinal tract. Following a screen of over 100 fruits, vegetables, herbs, and fungi, we identified strawberry as a potent enhancer of macromolecular permeability both in vitro and in vivo. Natural product chemistry techniques revealed pelargonidin, an anthocyanidin, as the active compound in strawberry. In mice, pelargonidin enabled 100% bioactivity of oral insulin relative to the current gold standard of subcutaneous injection, without causing toxicity following 30 days of daily treatment. These results underscore the potential of naturally derived compounds in biomedical applications and demonstrate pelargonidin as an especially potent new enhancer for the oral delivery of biologics.

OCTOBER 15, 2019

Yuriy Román-Leshkov

Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering
MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology


BIO: Prof. Román’s research lies at the interface of heterogeneous catalysis and materials design. His group applies a wide range of synthetic, spectroscopic, and reaction engineering tools to study the chemical transformation of molecules on catalytic surfaces. A strong emphasis is placed on the application of catalytic materials to tackle relevant problems associated with sustainable energy, biofuels, and renewable chemicals. Current efforts are geared toward designing water-tolerant solid Lewis acids, investigating cooperative effects in porous materials for C-O and C-H bond activation, and engineering transition metal carbides and nitrides as replacements for critical materials. He has been awarded the SHPE Outstanding Young Investigator, the NSF CAREER, Aris, AICHE CRE Young Investigator, and ACS Early Career in Catalysis awards.

TITLE: Molecular engineering of catalytic interfaces: Towards improved stability for earth-abundant catalysts

ABSTRACT: In an increasingly carbon-constrained world, lignocellulosic biomass, natural gas, water, and carbon dioxide have emerged as attractive options to supply energy, fuels, and chemicals at scale in a cleaner and more sustainable manner. However, the unique chemical makeup of these alternative energy sources has created daunting conversion challenges, requiring the development a new generation of catalysts to promote selective bond-breaking events. In this lecture, I will show how advanced synthesis techniques can be coupled with rigorous reactivity and characterization studies to unearth unique synergies in nanostructured catalysts. More specifically, I will discuss the use of molecular engineering tools to design nanostructured earth-abundant heterometallic early transition metal carbide (TMC) nanoparticles as a novel platform to replace (or at least drastically reduce) noble metal utilization in electro- and thermo-catalytic applications. I will present a new method to synthesize TMCs covered in atomically-thin layers of noble metals with exquisite control over composition, size, crystal phase, and purity. Controlling these features has direct consequences on the electronic (and thus catalytic) properties of the noble metal overlayer. The advantages of this new class of materials will be demonstrated in the context of CO-tolerant electro-oxidation reactions and selective partial hydrogenation of hydrocarbons (Figure 1). By gaining a fundamental understanding of the parameters governing the behavior of these interfaces, we can then derive and implement design principles aimed at improving their stability and long-term performance.

November 13, 2018

Lydia Contreras
Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering 
University of Texas-Austin


BIO: Prof. Contreras is a member of the Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Texas-Austin. She teaches Thermodynamics, Introduction to Chemical Engineering Analysis, and Fundamental and Applications of Cellular Regulation. Dr. Contreras obtained a B.S.E. in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University, where she graduated Cum Laude. She completed her PhD in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University, focusing on engineering bacterial cells for improved production of therapeutic proteins. As a postdoctoral associate at the Wadsworth Center (New York State Department of Health), she focused on understanding mechanisms of infection in pathogenic bacteria. She began her career at the University of Texas-Austin in 2011, where she leads a research team focused on RNA biochemistry to study gene regulation mechanisms associated with stress-responses for applications in health and biotechnology. She has received several academic, teaching and service awards including: Department of Thrust Reduction Agency (DTRA) Young Investigator, Airforce Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator, NSF CAREER, Health and Environmental Institute (HEI) Walter E. Rosenblith New Investigator, Norman Hackerman Advanced Research Program (NHARP) Early Career, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) Young Investigator Award, and an Innovative Early-Career Frontiers of Engineering Educator.

TITLE: Understanding and Engineering RNAs for Programmable Gene Control

ABSTRACT: Regulatory RNAs enable bacteria to dynamically respond to stresses caused by changes in environmental conditions. Specifically, bacterial small RNAs, a class of RNA regulators, exert dynamic control on complex networks by regulating gene expression. Understanding their functions is a goal in both medicine and metabolic engineering given their relevance to pathogenesis and their potential to manage global regulatory networks that affect biological production of industrially-relevant compounds. Given the importance of molecular structure to RNA functioning, fundamental sRNA characterization and applied engineering efforts  depend heavily on the understanding and design of their specific shapes. Specifically, knowledge of the RNA structural landscape supports identification of interfaces relevant to regulation. In this talk, we will describe the development of a high throughput tool that allows for the simultaneous in vivo characterization of thousands of potential interacting interfaces in RNA molecules, as determined based on their molecular accessibility. We will describe how RNA structural insights obtained from this synthetic probing approach can be used in the functional characterization of newly discovered RNAs and in the rational design of bacterial sRNAs to achieve a tunable gradient of global control for metabolic engineering applications.

February 15, 2018

V. Faye McNeill
Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering
Columbia University


BIO: Prof. McNeill is the Chair of the Undergraduate Committee Columbia University. She joined Columbia in 2007 and received tenure in 2014. She received her B.S. in Ch.E. from Caltech in 1999 and her PhD in Ch.E. from MIT in 2005, where she was a NASA Earth System Science Fellow. From 2005-2007 she was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Washington Department of Atmospheric Sciences. She received the NSF CAREER and the ACS Petroleum Research Fund Doctoral New Investigator awards in 2009. She was the recipient of the Kenneth T. Whitby Award of AAAR in 2015. She is the Associate Editor in charge of Atmospheric Chemistry for ACS Earth and Space Chemistry. She was a co-editor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics from 2007-2017. She has served in multiple elected officer positions in AIChE, AAAR, and AGU. She is an appointed member of the IUPAC panel on kinetic data evaluation and the ACS Committee on Environmental Improvement.

TITLE: Aqueous Atmospheric Chemistry: From the Molecular to the Regional and Global Scales

ABSTRACT: Aqueous chemical processes occurring in cloud droplets and wet atmospheric particles are an important source of organic and inorganic atmospheric particulate matter. Despite considerable progress, mechanistic understanding of some key aqueous processes is still lacking, and representation of these processes is incomplete in most regional and global models. I will review the state of the science and discuss my group’s efforts in characterizing these processes in the laboratory, modeling them in detail on the molecular level, and model reduction to include essential processes in large-scale models.

October 25, 2016

Jeffrey Rimer
Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering
University of Houston

BIO: Prof. Rimer received B.S. degrees in Chemical Engineering and Chemistry from Washington University in St. Louis and Allegheny College, respectively. In 2006, he received his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Delaware. Prior to joining the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Houston in 2009, he spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow at New York University’s Molecular Design Institute within the Department of Chemistry. Jeff’s research in the area of crystal engineering focuses on the rational design of materials with specific applications in the synthesis of microporous catalysts and adsorbents, and the development of therapeutics to inhibit crystal formation in pathological diseases. His work has been featured in high impact journals such as Science and Nature, among others. Jeff has also received numerous awards, including a Welch Foundation fellowship, the ACS Doctoral New Investigator Award, and the NSF CAREER Award. Recently, he was selected for the 2016 Owens Corning Early Career Award by AIChE. He has also been the recipient of several research and teaching awards, including the Junior Faculty Research Excellence Award from the Cullen College of Engineering, the Excellence in Research and Scholarship and the Early Faculty Award for Mentoring Undergraduate Research from the University of Houston, and Teaching Excellence Awards at both the University and College level. Jeff serves as chair of the Southwest Catalysis Society, vice chair of the International Zeolite Association Synthesis Commission, chair elect for the Gordon Research Conference on Crystal Growth and Assembly, and he is an advisory board member for the journal Reaction Chemistry & Engineering.

TITLE: Identifying New Paradigms in Crystal Engineering for Energy and Biomedical Applications

ABSTRACT: Crystal engineering is a broad area of research that focuses on methods of designing and/or optimizing materials for diverse applications in fields spanning from energy to medicine. The ability to selectively control crystallization to achieve desired material properties requires detailed understandings of the thermodynamic and kinetic factors regulating crystal nucleation and growth. Combining this fundamental knowledge with innovative approaches to tailor crystal size, structure, and morphology can lead to the production of materials with superior properties beyond what is achievable by conventional routes. In this talk I will discuss two general mechanisms of crystal growth: (1) classical pathways involving 2-dimensional layer nucleation and advancement on crystal surfaces through monomer addition; and (2) nonclassical pathways, termed crystallization by particle attachment (CPA), involving the formation of metastable precursors that play a direct role in crystal nucleation and growth. Our group uses techniques such as atomic force microscopy (AFM) to investigate crystallization in situ under solvothermal conditions. We have developed a unique AFM system capable of capturing time-resolved dynamics of surface growth, thus opening new routes to probe complex pathways of crystallization. We also design “modifiers” to control crystal properties such as size and morphology. Modifiers are molecules or macromolecules that interact with specific surfaces of crystals and regulate anisotropic growth rates. In this talk, I will show how we use growth modifiers to control crystallization in two distinctly different, yet fundamentally similar, applications. In the first part of my talk I will discuss our work on the development of therapeutic drugs for crystals implicated in two pathological diseases: kidney stones (calcium oxalate monohydrate) and malaria (hematin). In the second part of my talk, I will discuss how we are using modifiers as a bio-inspired approach to tailor the properties of zeolites, which are microporous aluminosilicates commercially used in catalysis, adsorption, and ion-exchange processes. Topics that will be addressed include the broader challenges of synthesizing zeolites, progress towards elucidating their complex mechanism(s) of growth, and extensive effort to develop commercially-viable approaches to tailor their physicochemical properties.