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As a member of the American Association of Universities the University of Utah is part of a prestigious group of tier-1 research universities. The Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Utah stands as a leader within the state and region in research activities, and is among the top Chemical Engineering programs nationally.

Our faculty are accomplished researchers in a variety of disciplines who stand at the forefront of their fields. Interdisciplinary research is common among our faculty to push the frontiers of their disciplines forward by bringing together expertise and perspective from other departments, colleges, universities and national laboratories.

We aspire to always conduct our research in accord with the highest standards of science, and with the goal of addressing the world’s most pressing technological challenges.

Research Areas

Our faculty are developing novel sensors and devices for detecting diseases, delivering drugs, choosing effective therapies and increasing the efficiency of pharmaceutical manufacturing (MagdaMohantyPorterSkliar, Wang, Zangle and Zhang).

Sample research projects include:

  • Design and synthesis of smart polymer hydrogels for use in biomedical sensors and biosensors for control of biomanufacturing (Magda)
  • Real-time detection of neurotransmitters for monitoring neurodevelopment disorders (Wang)
  • Fractionation and characterization of Extracellular Vesicles for disease diagnosis and therapy (Wang)
  • Biofunctional nanomaterials for cytokine storm detection in COVID patients (Wang)
  • Application of single-cell mass measurements for functional precision oncology (Zangle)
  • Fabrication of refractive-index matched microfluidic devices optimized for microscopy (Zangle)
  • Measurement of intracellular mass transport (Zangle)
  • Gallium based Mechanically Adaptable Electrode Array (Zhang)
  • 3D Bioelectronics (Zhang)
  • Advanced Wearable Devices for Human-Machine Interface (Zhang)
  • Biostable Nanocomposite for Implantable Antenna (Zhang)

Our department continues to be a world leader in fossil and renewable fuel utilization technologies, including advanced combustion technologies for carbon dioxide capture, gasification and catalytic syngas processing, and conversion of biomass and waste to energy and biofuels. (EddingsNigra, Powell, Sutherland, Wendt and Whitty).

Examples of current research include:

  • High-value carbon products from coal and waste plastics. (Eddings) We are utilizing this abundant natural resource (coal) as a raw material to produce high-value products such as carbon fiber, carbon quantum dots, carbon anodes, etc. We also utilize waste plastic materials to serve as hydrogen donor species and to otherwise assist in altering the chemical transformations we are investigating.
  • Li-ion batteries for electric vehicles. (Gao) We aim to tackle critical material and electrochemical challenges to boost the charging performance of LiB to <10 minutes, to address safety issues and to enhance energy density. Our recent work, published in Joule and featured in a local news story, revealed the fundamental mechanism that limits the charging speed of a Li-ion battery.
  • Flow batteries for grid storage. (Gao) To integrate renewable energy, such as solar and wind, into our grid, large scale energy storage is necessary to buffer their intermittency. In our lab, we combine both materials innovation and fundamental understanding to design novel flow batteries with low cost and high energy density to meet the demand of grid integration.
  • The FORGE project is a large-scale geothermal energy demonstration, right here in Utah! It seeks to improve efficiency of geothermal energy production while understanding important issues such as induced microseismicity (McClennan)
  • Solar Thermal Energy Systems for Industrial Decarbonization: We are coming up with new design and operating concepts for solar thermal energy to be synergistic with other energy sources in a way that ensures reliability while maximizing the benefits of renewables. (Powell)
  • Hybrid Nuclear Energy Systems: We are designing and simulating new hybrid nuclear energy concepts where flexibility can be built into a complex nuclear energy systems via storage, complementary generation, or waste heat recovery. (Powell)

We are researching the origin and health effects of airborne particulates, making sensors for monitoring air quality and minimizing air and water pollution (Butterfield, Holmes, KellyPowell, Silcox and Wang).

Examples of research activities include:

  • Combinatorial photocatalytical materials design for degradation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) contaminants in water (Wang)
  • Estimate human exposure to ambient air pollution and heat stress to investigate the health impacts associated with poor air quality and heat waves. (Holmes)
  • Real-time smoke transport and air quality prediction using big data analytics, machine learning, satellite remote sensing, and atmospheric models. (Holmes)
  • Improve models used to simulate air quality during wildfire events and temperature inversions in mountainous regions. (Holmes)
  • Develop new models to apportion both primary and secondary pollutants to source specific-categories. (Holmes, Kelly)
  • Understanding the effect of dynamic social-norm messaging on air quality and driver behavior (Kelly)
  • Developing the next generation of air quality sensors to understand formaldehyde sources in northern Utah (Kelly)
  • Using networked, low-cost air quality sensors to understand the influence of the shrinking Great Salt Lake on dust levels in Utah (Kelly)
  • Linking highly resolved estimates of air quality to asthma exacerbations (Kelly)
  • Renewable Natural Gas: We are analyzing the potential of recycling waste to convert it to renewable natural gas. (Powell)
  • Hydrogen Economy: We are developing dynamic simulation models of large-scale hydrogen generation, storage, distribution, and consumption to help the world better understand the economic and environmental implications of the hydrogen economy. (Powell)

Polymeric, ceramic and nanofabricated materials and devices are being developed for health, energy and environmental applications including disease diagnosis and water purification (MagdaMohantyNigraPorter, Wang, Zangle and Zhang).

Examples of research activities include:

  • Combinatorial photocatalytical materials design for degradation of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) contaminants in water (Wang)
  • Biofunctional nanomaterials for cytokine storm detection in COVID patients
  • Semiconductor material characterization: Photoluminescence microscopy as a noninvasive characterization method for defects in wideband gap semiconductors (Wang)

Our faculty are developing unique capabilities in exascale computing of complex physical processes, including verification and validation of processes involving turbulent mixing and reactions (Holmes, PowellSaadSutherland, and Spinti).

Efforts in this area include

  • Research in numerical methods and algorithms to enable faster CFD simulations (Saad).
  • Development of reduced-order models that allow user-defined accuracy by taking advantage of low-dimensional structures embedded in very high dimensional state spaces (Sutherland).
  • Local, regional, and continental scale simulations of atmospheric processes (Holmes)
  • Empirical, statistical, and physical (first principles) modeling transport and chemistry (Holmes, Sutherland)
  • Development of new atmospheric turbulence parameterizations to improve numerical weather prediction and chemical transport modeling (Holmes)
  • Smart Grid Simulation and Analysis: We are creating city-level energy simulations to explore the effects of electrification and the push toward 100% renewable energy. (Powell)
  • Grid-Responsive Smart Manufacturing: We are using advanced AI and machine learning tools to automate industrial processes in an intelligent way so that process flexibility can become a major asset to the existing energy infrastructure. (Powell)
  • AI-based Optimization of Process and Energy Systems: We are developing new AI-based algorithms to learn and optimize industrial processes in real time in a way that minimizes their environmental impact. (Powell)

Professors Saad and Sutherland recently published work showing how high-performance computing can inform risk mitigation strategies for airborne pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2. This work was featured in several news outlets including the New York Times, New Scientist, Science Magazine, and others.  See here for a video description.

Our petroleum Engineering faculty research all aspects of energy production from shales, oil and gas including transportation, reservoir simulation, carbon dioxide sequestration and geothermal energy production (DeoHoepfnerMcLennanPershing).