Skip to Navigation
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
About RPI Academics Research Student Life Admissions News Tour
    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  Aug 19, 2017
Skip Navigation
Rensselaer Catalog 2017-2018

Chemical and Biological Engineering

Return to: Schools & Departments

Department Head: Joel Plawsky

Director, Industrial Liaison Program: B. Wayne Bequette

Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies: Pankaj Karande

Coordinator of Graduate Studies:  Cynthia Collins

Department Home Page:

The chemical conversion of resources into new, more useful forms has been the traditional concern of chemical engineering. In recent years, chemical engineering has played a major role in high technology advances in biotechnology, sustainable energy, and novel materials processing. In addition, a critical concern with the depletion of resources has developed, leading to increased efforts to conserve, recycle, and find environmentally friendly alternatives.

The major educational objective in the Howard P. Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering is to prepare students to enter their engineering practice dealing with chemical as well as physical processes to meet the challenges of the future. The curriculum, which builds on chemistry, biology, mathematics, basic sciences, and engineering science, culminates in professional applications in which theory is tempered by engineering art and economic principles. Through this curriculum, graduates are prepared equally well for professional practice or for advanced study.

Opportunities for creative and satisfying practice in chemical and biological engineering can be found in conception, design, control, or management of processes involving chemical and/or biochemical transformations. These processes range from the more conventional conversion of crude oil into petrochemicals and plastics, to the microbiological transformation of hardwood chips into specialty alcohols, or to the creation of semiconductor devices from silicon wafers. Diverse career choices exist not only in the chemical industry, but in virtually all processing industries, including agricultural, biotechnology, chemical, food, nuclear, semiconductor processing, and environmental operations. By emphasizing basic principles, the program prepares its graduates for positions spanning the spectrum of activities from research and development, to process and project engineering, to production, or to technical marketing.

Research Innovations and Initiatives

Biochemical Engineering
Research projects in biochemical engineering emphasize biocatalysis, bioseparations, and metabolic engineering. Fundamental and applied aspects of enzyme technology, mammalian cell culture, membrane sorption and separation, displacement chromatography, and salt-induced precipitation are important areas of focus. New designs involving aqueous and nonaqueous enzyme technology are being developed, as are new types of membrane-entrapped-enzyme and animal-cell-suspension reactors, which are being built, tested, and analyzed. Metabolic engineering processes are being used to develop high-rate bacterial fermentations and overproducing hybridoma cultures for producing chemical intermediates and monoclonal antibodies, respectively. Control theory of biological processes and an optical biosensor for metal detection are also being pursued. Projects closely related to biomedical engineering involve the design of polymeric inhibitors of bacterial toxins and viruses, and the use of microfabrication tools to modulate the interaction of mammalian cells with their environment for applications in tissue engineering.

Separation and Bioseparation Processes
Research projects in separation and bioseparations employ fundamental concepts for solving applied problems in the biological and environmental fields. Current projects emphasize interactions of proteins with synthetic membranes and chromatographic media, high throughput screening, combinatorial and computational chemistry, spectroscopy, chip technology, proteomics, modification of polymeric surfaces for bioseparations and environmental applications, and the recovery of proteins from complex biological solutions using fusion affinity adsorption, pressure-driven membrane processes, displacement chromatography, and expanded-bed adsorption. Other projects focus on the design and synthesis of high-performance artificial membranes inspired by biological membranes, for environmental processes and chemical production.

Molecular Modeling and Simulations
Monte Carlo and molecular dynamics simulations are being used in combination with statistical mechanical theories to understand thermodynamics, structure, and kinetics of biomolecules in aqueous solutions. Special emphasis is placed on understanding and relating water structure near different solutes and in different environments to resulting interactions (e.g., hydrophilic and hydrophobic interactions). Theory and molecular simulations are also used to study the effects of geometrical and chemical heterogeneity on molecular transport and reaction in porous catalysts, sorbents and membranes, and to apply this knowledge to their rational design.

Advanced Materials
Research area includes two dimensional materials such as graphene, MoS2, etc.  It also involves other low dimensional materials where quantum effects are important. Material synthesis will be explored, while the research will also include nanofabrication of optoelectronic devices based on these materials. Also novel  optical and electrical measurement setups to better characterize these materials. These setups include confocal scanning microscope, photocurrent microscope, photoluminescence and Raman microscopy as well as ultrafast optical spectroscopy.

Interfacial Phenomena
Problems under investigation include interfacial resistance to mass transfer and the interaction between surface forces and interfacial convection. Work in the interfacial area is concerned with heat, mass, and momentum transfer in multicomponent, ultrathin, liquid films. Research includes studies on condensation and evaporation in the contact line region, distillation from ultrathin films, lubrication, surface-tension-driven instabilities in atomically clean liquid metals, pattern formation in dendritic growth, protein-solid interaction, and the design of biocompatible surfaces.

The polymer research program focuses on understanding fundamental properties of nanostructured polymers and their applications on various energy problems. Current research focuses are thermodynamics of polymer mixtures, rational design of nanostructured polymers for ion-transporting membranes, and long-range ordered structures by self-aggregated block copolymers in melts and solutions. Along with advanced polymer synthesis capabilities, rheology, small angle X-ray/light scattering, and electron microscopy techniques are used as primary characterization tools in the polymer research program. 

Process Control and Design
A major focus of this research is the development of realistic, robust control strategies for multivariable chemical processes having parameter and process uncertainties. Such strategies are created to exploit the dynamic properties inherent in the systems. Integration of the modeling, design, and control of specialty chemical and pharmaceutical processes is of particular interest.

Heat Transfer
Topics of interest include free convection stability, forced convection (particularly in laminar flow systems), fluid-to-particle heat transfer in fluidized and spouted beds, and boiling. Studies on heat and mass transfer at interfaces are also under way.

Activities include molecular simulation, the analysis and correlation of phase-equilibrium data, the development and evaluation of fluid-phase equations of state, and the study of topics in solution thermodynamics.

Mass Transport
Research is in progress on simultaneous heat and mass transfer in porous media; effects of surface roughness and chemical heterogeneity on diffusion; the effects of interfacial phenomena on mass transfer; diffusion and mixing in laminar flow systems; transient dispersion processes in capillaries, porous media and open channels; and crystal growth phenomena.

Fluid Mechanics
Projects in this area involve low Reynolds number hydrodynamics, non-Newtonian fluids, two-phase flow, and interfacial flows.

Interdepartmental Research
Several research areas involve participation and cooperation with other departments. Such areas include polymer studies with the Materials Science and Engineering and Chemistry Departments, fermentation and other biochemical research with the Biology Department, studies in fluid mechanics with the Mathematics Department, polymer membrane fabrication with the Chemistry Department, and research on lubrication and other interfacial phenomena with the Mechanical Engineering Department. Additional information on research in these areas is found in the catalog sections for those departments.

Research Related Facilities
The department maintains extensive research and instructional laboratories which house myriad special and unique equipment developed for specific studies, as well as extensive analytical and optical instrumentation and computers. Major instrumentation such as a GC/mass spectrometer, an X-ray fluorescence analyzer, an ion chromatograph, HPLC systems, and a laser zee particle characterization system make Rensselaer’s laboratories one of the most comprehensively equipped university centers for research in the areas described above. Many faculty in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department have their research labs located in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, which is equipped with an impressive array of core imaging, analytical, and spectroscopy tools. The department research programs also use a number of major university facilities including the electron optics laboratory and the polymer laboratories in the Materials Research Center.

Faculty *


Belfort, G.—Ph.D. (University of California, Irvine); membrane sorption and separations engineering, biocatalysis, biosensors, magnetic resonance flow imaging.

Bequette, B.W.—Ph.D. (University of Texas, Austin); chemical process modeling, control, and optimization, biomedical, and drug infusion systems.

Cramer, S.M.—Ph.D. (Yale University); biochemical engineering, chromatographic separations.

Dordick, J.S.—Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); biochemical engineering, enzyme technology, polymer chemistry, bioseparations.

Garde, S.—Ph.D. (University of Delaware); water and aqueous solutions, protein solvation and biomolecular interactions, thermodynamics.

Koffas, M.—Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); metabolic engineering, biocatalysis and natural products, and cellular physiology.

Plawsky, J.L.—Sc.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); optical, nonlinear and electro-optic, crystalline, glassy materials, transport phenomena.

Tessier, P.M.—Ph.D. (University of Delaware); protein thermodynamics, protein self-assembly and aggregation, and bionanotechnology.

Associate Professors

Collins, C.H.—Ph.D. (California Institute of Technology); protein engineering and synthetic microbial ecosystems.

Karande, P.—Ph.D. (University of California, Santa Barbara); high throughput screening, drug discovery, and peptide engineering.

Underhill, P.T.—Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); fluid dynamics, polymers, molecular simulation, biophysics, microfluidics, complex fluids.

Assistant Professors

Chakrapani, V.—Ph.D. (Case Western Reserve University); semiconductor photochemistry, solar energy conversion, advanced materials.

Lee, S.—Ph.D. (University of Minnesota); polymers, nanostructured materials, and sustainability.

Shi, S.—Ph.D. (Cornell University); two-dimensional materials and metamaterials, nanoscale optoelectronics, ultrafast optical and THz spectroscopy, and photocurrent microscopy.

Research Associate Professor

Zhang, F.—Ph.D. (University of Leeds); molecular interaction kinetics, biophysics, and glycomics.

Emeritus Professors

Bungay, H.R., III—P.E., Ph.D. (Syracuse University); water resources, biochemical engineering.

Fontijn, A.—D.Sc. (University of Amsterdam, Netherlands); combustion, high-temperature kinetics, gas phase reactions, atmospheric chemistry.

Littman, H.—Ph.D. (Yale University); fluidization, fluid-particle systems.

Wayner, P.C., Jr.—Ph.D. (Northwestern University); heat transfer, interfacial phenomena.

Joint Appointments - Professors

Gross, R.A.—Ph.D. (Polytechnic University); applying skills in biocatalysis and organic/polymer chemisry to the synthesis of biobased polymers, surfactants and peptides.

Hahn, J.—Ph.D. (University of Texas at Austin); systems biology, modeling and control of complex dynamic systems, sensitivity analysis of nonlinear and uncertain systems, model reduction.

Hirsa, A.—Ph.D. (University of Michigan); fluid mechanics, experimental gas dynamics.

Linhardt, R.L.—Ph.D. (The Johns Hopkins University); carbohydrate chemistry, medicinal chemistry and biocatalysis.

* Departmental faculty listings are accurate as of the date generated for inclusion in this catalog. For the most up-to-date listing of faculty positions, including end-of-year promotions, please refer to the Faculty Roster section of this catalog, which is current as of the May 2017 Board of Trustees meeting.

Undergraduate Programs

Outcomes of the Undergraduate Curriculum
Students who successfully complete this program will be able to demonstrate:

  • an ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering.
  • an ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data.
  • an ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, manufacturability, and sustainability.
  • an ability to function on multi-disciplinary teams.
  • an ability to identify, formulate and solve engineering problems.
  • an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.
  • an ability to communicate effectively.
  • the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental and societal context.
  • a recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in lifelong learning.
  • a knowledge of contemporary issues.
  • an ability to use techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice.

Objectives of the Undergraduate Curriculum

The Howard P. Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering bachelor’s degree program is designed to prepare students for continued learning and successful careers in industry, government, academia, and consulting. Within a few years of graduation departmemt alumni are expected to:

  • be gainfully employed in a professional capacity and promoting the responsible application of technology to enhance the common good.
  • be preparing for leadership roles in society by furthering their proficiency in engineering practice or by preparing for professional practice in related disciplines via further graduate or professional study.         

Students may achieve these objectives through completion of either the baccalaureate program leading to the B.S. degree or the professional program leading to the M.Eng. degree. Both programs are described in detail in the Programs section of this catalog.

The Chemical Engineering degree program at Rensselaer is accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET,

Graduate Programs

The Chemical and Biological Engineering Department offers the Master of Science, the Master of Engineering, and the Doctor of Philosophy degrees, each of which is tailored to fulfill the varying educational needs of its graduate students.

All graduate programs offer flexibility. Students are advised to plan programs that use course choices and electives to obtain in-depth studies in one or more subspecialties of their degree majors. Cross-disciplinary studies using courses offered by other departments or schools at Rensselaer are encouraged.

In addition, all graduate degree programs are arranged individually, and students are encouraged to use electives to conduct intensive studies in one or more subdisciplines or specialties. The M.S. and Ph.D. programs are particularly flexible. However, each student’s program must include the following courses:

  • CHME 6570 Chemical and Phase Equilibria (fall)
  • CHME 6610 Mathematical Methods in Chemical Engineering I (fall)
  • CHME 6510 Advanced Transport Phenomena I (spring)
  • 6000-level Chemical Engineering Elective

Master’s Programs

The master’s degree represents an intermediate level of academic preparation. It is often the optimal degree for careers in engineering design.

Doctoral Programs

The Ph.D. degree represents the highest level of academic preparation. With it, a student can expect to maintain technical competence and contributions throughout a professional career. It is usually the preferred degree for research and development in industry and government and for teaching.

Within the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department, 72 credits of graduate-level studies, including the dissertation, are required for a Ph.D. The emphasis is on advanced study in a specialty with major focus on the dissertation. A doctoral student must pass a comprehensive examination, prepare a dissertation proposal and the dissertation itself, and present and defend the dissertation.

Course Descriptions

Courses directly related to all Chemical and Biological Engineering curricula are described in the Course Description section of this catalog under the department code CHME.  



Return to: Schools & Departments