Jun 18, 2024  
Rensselaer Catalog 2008-2009 
Rensselaer Catalog 2008-2009 [Archived Catalog]

Chemical and Biological Engineering

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Department Head: Shekhar Garde

Director, Industrial Liaison Program: E. Bruce Nauman

Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies: Susan Sharfstein

Coordinator of Graduate Studies:  B. Wayne Bequette

Department Home Page: http://www.eng.rpi.edu/dept/chme/

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 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 and Innovation Initiatives

Biochemical and Biomedical 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 in 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.

Molecular 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). Molecular simulation techniques are also being applied to polymeric systems to understand penetrant solubility and diffusivity in polymers.

Advanced Materials
Research interests are centered on developing and understanding the phenomena involved in producing advanced materials for the optical, electronic, and allied industries. Thermodynamic, transport, and chemical processes governing the formation and subsequent behavior of these materials are under active investigation. Research areas include modeling and optimizing CVD-reactor-system designs for producing high-efficiency, epitaxial layers economically in an environmentally sound manner, and developing nonlinear and electro-optic inorganic and organic materials for switching and memory applications. Additional research areas are understanding phenomena involved in the production and use of microlens arrays, wave-guide lasers, and determining the composition, property, and structure relationships of crystalline and glassy materials.

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.

A large polymer research program focuses on polymer reaction engineering including devolatilization and heat transfer. Current work emphasizes bulk polymerizations in tubular reactors and segregation phenomena in stirred tank reactors. Under study are ways of enhancing heat transfer to fluids in laminar flow and the application of polymer devolatilization technology to unconventional substances. The recovery of commingled scrap plastics by selective dissolution is a major activity. Other active areas include structure-property relationships, rheology, extrusion, and a large interdisciplinary program on biocatalysis in polymer synthesis and modification.

High-Temperature Kinetics
The development of more efficient, less polluting, combustion systems, requires accurate chemical kinetic input data on individual reactions over large temperature ranges. Rensselaer is pioneering the development of experimental techniques for obtaining such data. This work includes design, construction, experimentation, and the generation of data for use by reaction system modelers. Both fast-flow thermal and pseudostatic photochemical systems are used. Various light sources, such as lasers, combined with electro-optical detection techniques are employed to determine the time history of reactants. Larger reactants and products are observed mass spectrometrically. Microcomputers are used for experimental control and data handling. In some work, the light-emitting and electrical-charge generation aspects of reactions are also investigated. In addition to combustion, this work is important to technological fields, such as semiconductor processing, metals refining, and optical fiber and carbon black manufacturing, as well as models of the atmosphere. A better understanding of the temperature dependence of reaction rate coefficients is a significant result of this work.

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; 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 the mechanics of fluidized beds, spouted beds, bubbles, low Reynolds number hydrodynamics, kinetic theory, two-phase flow, and surfactant behavior in organic-aqueous systems.

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.

Coppens, M-O.—Ph.D. (University of Gent, Belgium), reaction engineering, nanomaterials, nano-biotechnology, mathematical modeling (chaos and fractals), and nature inspired chemical engineering.

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.

Garcia, A.—Ph.D. (Cornell University); theoretical and computational aspects of biomolecular dynamics.

Garde, S.S.—Ph.D. (University of Delaware); molecular simulation.

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

Kane, R.S. —Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); biomedical engineering, polymers, surfaces, nanomaterials.

Lahey, R.T., Jr.—Ph.D. (Stanford University); two-phase flow and boiling heat transfer.

Nauman, E.B.—Ph.D. (University of Leeds, England); reaction engineering, dispersion theory, laminar heat transfer.

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

Assistant Professors

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

Martin, L.L.—Ph.D. (University of California, Los Angeles) process systems engineering, design for waste minimization and pollution prevention.

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

Sharfstein, S.T.—Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley); biochemical engineering, mammalian cell culture.

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

Research Assistant Professor

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

Distinguished Research Professors

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

Gill, W.N.—P.E., Ph.D. (Syracuse University); transient dispersion processes, reverse osmosis systems, crystal growth phenomena, surface-tension-driven flow.

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

Adjunct Faculty

Belfort, M.—Ph.D. (University of California, Irvine); molecular biology.

Emeritus Professors

Altwicker, E.R.—Ph.D. (Ohio State University); air pollution control, atmospheric chemistry.

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

Chung, C.I.—Ph.D. (Rutgers University); polymer processing, polymer melt rheology, relaxation behavior in polymer solids.

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

Muckenfuss, C.—Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin); kinetic theory, transport phenomena.

Van Ness, H.C.—P.E., D.Eng. (Yale University); thermodynamics.

* 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 2008 Board of Trustees meeting.

Undergraduate Programs

Objectives of the Undergraduate Curriculum

Graduates of the Howard P. Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering will:

  • Be gainfully employed in a professional capacity and adhere to the ethical and safety responsibilities of their position and their chosen field.

  • Be applying fundamental chemical engineering principles and economic analyses to the development of processes, products, and experimental systems to serve the common purposes and welfare of society.
  • Be expressing themselves in professional settings such as meetings and conferences and will feel confident communicating technical material through written reports, oral presentations, and/or professional papers.
  • Be working with or leading teams and will be confident in their roles as team members or team leaders.
  • Be furthering their proficiency in engineering practice or will be preparing for professional practice in related disciplines via further graduate or professional study.
  • Be informed citizens, broadly educated in the humanities and social sciences and active in their communities or professional societies.                 

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 below.


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 Fluid Mechanics I (Spring)
  • CHME 6640 Advanced Chemical Reactor Design (Spring)

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.


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.  


Within the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department, 90 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.

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