Jul 18, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2024-2025 
Rensselaer Catalog 2024-2025

Chemical and Biological Engineering

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Department Head: Joel Plawsky

Director, Industrial Liaison Program: B. Wayne Bequette

Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies: Nihat Baysal

Coordinator of Graduate Studies: Todd Przybycien

Department Home Page: http://cbe.rpi.edu/

The chemical conversion of resources into new, more useful forms has been the traditional concern of chemical engineering. Chemical engineering has been at the forefront of every major technological advance from landing on the moon to formulating plant-based meat substitutes, since its founding as a discipline in 1908. It has played especially important roles in the areas of biotechnology, microelectronics, traditional and sustainable energy, and novel materials development and manufacture. In addition, critical concerns around the depletion of resources and climate change have developed, leading to increased efforts to conserve, recycle, mitigate the damage occurring, and find environmentally friendly alternatives to our fuels, chemicals, and synthetic materials.

The major educational objective in the Howard P. Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering is to prepare students to enter engineering practice and deal with chemical as well as physical processes to meet the challenges of the future. The curriculum, which builds on the basic sciences, mathematics, and fundamental engineering topics, 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 the 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 and photovoltaic devices from semiconductor materials. Diverse career choices exist not only in the chemical industry, but in virtually all processing industries, including agricultural, pharmaceutical, biological, 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 evaporation, condensation, contact line dynamics, flow boiling, and fundamental heat and mass transfer at interfaces including between 2-D materials. Simulations of transport at and through interfaces is also an area of great interest.

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, fundamental semiconductor and dielectric behavior with the Physics Department, AI and VR research with computer science, 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, biological, and biomedical control systems, diabetes technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, smart manufacturing.

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, synthetic biology, biocatalysis and natural products, and cellular physiology.

Plawsky, J.L.—Sc.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); optical and electronic materials, transport and interfacial phenomena, change-of-phase heat and mass transfer of pure fluids and mixtures on novel surfaces.

Przybycien, T.—Ph.D. (California Institute of Technology); biopharmaceutical manufacturing including bioseparations, process analytical technology, continuous processing, structure-function-processing relationships.

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

Associate Professors

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

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

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, quantum materials, magneto-spectroscopy, and photocurrent microscopy.


Assistant Professors

Zha, R.H.—Ph.D. (Northwestern University); supramolecular, self-assembling, and biomimetic materials for human healthcare and sustainability.

Professors of Practice

Baysal, N.—Ph.D. (Bogazici University); continuum and molecular simulations, materials science, diabetes technology, closed-loop control, systems biology.

Hedden, R.—Ph.D. (Cornell University); elastomers, hydrogels, pervaporation membranes, polymer-graphene nanocomposites, polymer-modified asphalts.


Warner, J.—Ph.D. (Columbia University); biophysical modeling, intracellular transport & exocytosis, virus membrane fusion, undergraduate learning & achievement.

Woodcock, C.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic University); transport phenomena, MEMS, advanced manufacturing techniques.

Research Associate Professor

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

Emeritus Professors

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

Joint Appointments - Professors

Bae, C.—Ph.D. (University of Southern California); clean energy technology, ion-conducting polymers for energy conversion, green chemistry.

Gross, R.A.—Ph.D. (Polytechnic University); applying skills in biocatalysis and organic/polymer chemistry 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.

Undergraduate Programs

The Chemical Engineering Undergraduate Program comprises a minimum of 42 courses, which include three free electives and two area electives: one in advanced chemical engineering and one in a nonchemical engineering area. The students may select these courses from the following tracks/specialization areas: 

  • Advanced Manufacturing, Process Design and Control
  • Bioprocess Engineering
  • Business and Entrepreneurship 
  • Computation and Process Data Analtyics 
  • Energy and Sustainability 
  • Materials and Polymer Processing 

The details and the courses associated with these chemical engineering tracks/specialization areas can be found on the department webpage; note that it is not necessary to choose a special formalization to earn a chemical engineering degree, but it is optional for students with interest. The complete curriculum totals 131 credit hours.

Outcomes of the Undergraduate Curriculum

Students who successfully complete this program will be able to demonstrate:

  • an ability to identify, formulate, and solve complex engineering problems by applying principles of engineering, science, and mathematics.
  • an ability to apply engineering design to produce solutions that meet specified needs with consideration of public health, safety, and welfare, as well as global, cultural, social, environmental, and economic factors.
  • an ability to communicate effectively with a range of audiences.
  • an ability to recognize ethical and professional responsibilities in engineering situations and make informed judgments, which must consider the impact of engineering solutions in global, economic, environmental, and societal contexts.
  • an ability to function effectively on a team whose members together provide leadership, create a collaborative and inclusive environment, establish goals, plan tasks, and meet objectives.
  • an ability to develop and conduct appropriate experimentation, analyze and interpret data, and use engineering judgment to draw conclusions.
  • an ability to acquire and apply new knowledge as needed, using appropriate learning strategies.

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 department 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, http://www.abet.org.

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 consult with their faculty advisor to create an individualized plan. The M.S. and Ph.D. programs are particularly flexible. However, each student’s program must include the following courses:

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 a career in research and development in industry and government and it is preferred for an academic career.

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 successfully complete a research-based qualifying examination, prepare a dissertation proposal that is approved by their doctoral thesis committee, and ultimately prepare, present and defend the dissertation itself.

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.  



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