Professor Jeffrey McCutcheon Named Quarter Finalist in American-Made Challenges: Solar Desalination Prize

Photo of Professor McCutcheon
The Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering would like to congratulate Professor Jeffrey McCutcheon on being a quarter finalist in the American-Made Challenges: Solar Desalination Prize. More information regarding his research on solar desalination can be found on the UConn Today website. View article.

Dr. Barry Carter Appointed as Honorary Fellow

Photo of Professor Barry Carter

The Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department would like to congratulate Professor Barry Carter on his selection as an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Microscopy Society.  Professor Carter is being recognized for “…outstanding internationally-recognized contributions to microscopy in both science and education over several decades.”  Selection as a Fellow is considered the most prestigious honor bestowed by the Society.  More details regarding his appointment can be found here.

New position open at CBE department

A new position is now open for tenure track Assistant/Associate Professor at the Chemical and Biomolecular Department. Search # 2020288

The Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department at the University of Connecticut invites applications to fill a tenure-track faculty position at the assistant or associate professor level, with an expected start date of August 23, 2020.


The University of Connecticut (UConn) is entering a transformational period of growth supported by the $1.7B Next Generation Connecticut (http://nextgenct.uconn.edu/) and the $1B Bioscience Connecticut (http://biosciencect.uchc.edu/) investments and a bold new Academic Plan: Path to Excellence (http://issuu.com/uconnprovost/docs/academic-plan-single-hi-optimized_1).  As part of these initiatives, UConn has hired more than 450 new faculty members at all ranks during the past three years.  We are pleased to continue these investments by inviting applications for one Assistant or Associate Professor position in the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department.


The successful candidate will be expected to contribute to research and scholarship through extramural funding (in disciplines where applicable), high quality publications, impact as measured through citations, performances and exhibits (in disciplines where applicable), and national recognition as through honorific awards. In the area of teaching, the successful candidate will share a deep commitment to effective instruction at the undergraduate and graduate levels, development of innovative courses and mentoring of students in research, outreach and professional development. Successful candidates will also be expected to broaden participation among members of under-represented groups; demonstrate through their research, teaching, and/or public engagement the richness of diversity in the learning experience; integrate multicultural experiences into instructional methods and research tools; and provide leadership in developing pedagogical techniques designed to meet the needs of diverse learning styles and intellectual interests.


The research specialty of primary interest is in the area of energy broadly interpreted, with research interests including, but not limited to: advanced energy materials, processes, and systems; combustion science & technology; energy storage and power management; fuels and fuel processing; renewable energy & resources; or bioenergy/biofuels.  Other topics in the broad area of energy are also welcome.



  • Develop and sustain an externally funded research program in the field of Chemical Engineering emphasizing but not limited to advanced energy materials, processes, and systems; combustion science & technology; energy storage and power management; fuels and fuel processing; renewable energy & resources; or bioenergy/biofuels.
  • Develop a national and international presence and reputation for excellence in research in Chemical Engineering and the specialty subfield(s) of interest as listed above.
  • Teach undergraduate and graduate core curriculum courses and specialty courses in the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering Department.
  • Advise and mentor undergraduate and graduate students.
  • Provide service and leadership to all units of the University of Connecticut, to external academic and scientific communities, and to the general public.


Minimum Qualifications: Candidates must have an earned Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering or a related field by the time of appointment; an established record of research with demonstrated potential for excellence in teaching commensurate with experience; and a commitment to promoting diversity through their academic and research programs. Candidates must also demonstrate a commitment to graduate education.


Preferred Qualifications: Preferred candidates will possess an outstanding record of scholarship and research contributions commensurate with experience, with accomplishments that demonstrate the relevance of their research to the chemical engineering and/or energy field in general. A record of excellence in teaching; the ability to effectively communicate with students in both large and small audiences, and a record of public engagement are equally desirable.


This is a full-time, 9-month, tenure track position with an anticipated start date of August 23, 2020.  The successful candidate’s primary academic appointment will be at the Storrs campus. Salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience.


This position will be filled subject to budgetary approval.


To apply, click here and select “Apply” to be redirected to Academic Jobs Online to complete your application.  Please submit the following: a cover letter, curriculum vitae, research and scholarship statement; teaching statement (including teaching philosophy, teaching experience, commitment to effective learning, concepts for new course development, etc.); commitment to diversity statement (including broadening participation, integrating multicultural experiences in instruction and research and pedagogical techniques to meet the needs of diverse learning styles, etc.); and sample articles or books.  Additionally, please follow the instructions in Academic Jobs Online to direct three reference writers to submit letters of reference on your behalf.  Screening of applicants will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. Employment of the successful candidates will be contingent upon the successful completion of a pre-employment criminal background check. (Search # 493703)


UCONN biodiesel technology is now commercial

UCONN Biodiesel technology led by Prof. Richard Parnas was installed at the wastewater treatment plant of the city of Danbury in CT. “We will be converting their waste stream, brown grease, to biodiesel fuel for use in their municipal vehicles, school buses, and heating systems” said Prof Parnas. A proposal was submitted to the city of New Haven to install the same technology to their water treatment facility. New Haven and Danbury are very excited to include UCONN as a partner in these projects.

UConn Partners in $100M DOE Innovation Hub on Water Technologies – Jeff McCutcheon leads UConn’s participation in NAWI


Around the world, fresh water scarcity poses a major economic, environmental, and humanitarian challenges. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and other federal agencies have forged important collaborations with universities, the private sector, the National Labs, and other organization to find innovative and practical solutions to address this threat.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced Monday that the National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI), a research consortium including the University of Connecticut, has been awarded a five-year, $100-million Energy-Water Desalination Hub (pending appropriations) to address water security issues in the United States. The hub will focus on early-stage research and development for energy-efficient and cost-competitive desalination technologies and for treating nontraditional water sources for various end uses.

Jeffrey McCutcheon, Al Geib Professor of Environmental Engineering Research and Education in UConn’s School of Engineering, is leading UConn’s participation in NAWI. McCutcheon is an internationally recognized expert in membrane technologies for sustainable water and energy production. He serves as a deputy thrust area lead for the hub’s R&D activities involving materials and manufacturing, and is also the UConn site representative to NAWI.

“UConn is excited to join a team consisting of top researchers in the field of water treatment and desalination,” says McCutcheon, who is also executive director of the Fraunhofer USA Center for Energy Innovation at UConn Tech Park. “While Connecticut does not suffer from severe water shortages, we do have water quality challenges that could see solutions emerge from this effort.”

McCutcheon anticipates that NAWI will tap into UConn’s expertise in areas like membrane technology, waste water treatment, computational development, and systems design, to create a stable and resilient water supply for agriculture, industry, and communities. NAWI hopes to achieve these goals through a “circular water economy,” by which water is treated for a specific purpose and reused at the local level rather than being transported long distances.

As a DOE Energy Innovation Hub, NAWI will not only conduct research but also develop a roadmap to prioritize the highest impact technology options, then identify and solicit projects to support those priorities.

NAWI’s goal is to advance a portfolio of novel technologies that will secure a circular water economy in which 90% of nontraditional water sources – such as seawater, brackish water, and produced waters – can be cost-competitive with existing water sources within 10 years.

According to McCutcheon, many of UConn’s research strengths align well with NAWI’s goals.

“Not only is UConn home to one of the highest quality material characterization facilities in the country, many UConn faculty members also already contribute to important water safety initiatives like Governor Lamont’s task force on hazardous chemicals in the Farmington River,” says McCutcheon. “I’m confident that UConn’s preeminent researchers and high-tech infrastructure will allow us to play a significant role in the NAWI innovation hub.”

Meet the Researcher: George Bollas, UConn Tech Park

 Consider the complexity of a modern passenger airliner. An aircraft is a self-contained “system-of-systems,” consisting of a diverse assortment of interdependent subsystems and components working together. Electrical, hydraulic, flight control, fuel handling, cabin pressurization, and engine systems are all crucial parts of a functional aircraft, each with their own constraints and requirements in addition to those of the aircraft as a whole.

The complexity of engineering interconnected systems like aircrafts — or, for that matter, power plants, smart buildings, and modern manufacturing facilities — has led many industries to migrate toward formalized systems engineering, considering large systems holistically.

Led by George Bollas, the United Technologies Corporation Institute for Advanced Systems Engineering (UTC-IASE) has been solving these real-world problems for industry since 2013.

Bollas, who is a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering in UConn’s School of Engineering, focuses his research on process design, simulation, optimization, control, and diagnostics. These research interests align seamlessly with the needs of industry partners like United Technologies Corporation.

Located in the University of Connecticut Tech Park’s Innovation Partnership Building, UTC-IASE is working on some of the most pressing challenges for businesses and research sponsors using innovative approaches to model-based systems engineering.

“We have converted it to something that is self-sustained and can work with United Technologies at many levels, but also engage other satellite industry partners, the state, and federal agencies to have a greater impact,” says Bollas.

Location, Location, Location

At UConn Tech Park, students from different departments and research groups in the School of Engineering who are working on different projects managed by the UTC-IASE can come together in a central location. Much like the complex operations the students are researching, their individual projects and skills all work together to make systems more efficient. Bollas says this allows for close collaboration and frequent discussion of what each individual group is tackling.

“For the first time we’re all in one place,” Bollas says. “To develop that culture for students, where they work next to each other, day and night, and all that good competition that comes out of it is very positive for the mindset and culture both at UConn and when these students go out in the workforce.”

“Industry often focuses on measurable outcomes, seeking means for producing their products better, faster, and at reduced cost. Awareness of these tangible impacts helps students understand the importance of their research”, says Bollas.

“In many cases, you know from the get-go that you are going to help a company solve a $10 million-a-year problem. It’s very exciting for the students to work on something that they understand has immediate value and impact on such a huge scale,” Bollas says.

Many of the students at the UTC-IASE go into careers with United Technology Corporation or other companies in the area of manufacturing, energy, aerospace, building, and robotics. The experience contributes to the preparation of graduate and undergraduate students for these careers as they learn to communicate with industry partners effectively and consistently.

“It’s a natural next step,” Bollas says. “It’s very helpful to know where they might be going, what they’re going to face in industry or academia.”

In addition to graduate research, UTC-IASE exposes UConn students to business professionals through a training program that was originally designed for employees of the corporation. Bollas says this training is critical, since the entire concept of systems engineering works to un-train students from thinking about problems in terms of their own specificity.

“In both research and training, we emphasize the concept of system-level thinking. One needs to understand what the entire system looks like – from architecture to requirements, design, commissioning, performance, and maintenance. This approach relies on thinking of the entire life-cycle of a system from design to decommissioning.”

To accomplish this, UTC-IASE offers training of professionals through a formal Graduate Certificate and a Master of Engineering program in Advanced Systems Engineering. These programs are offered to geographically dispersed professionals as well as students at UConn who are interested in developing a unique and valuable set of skills in the areas of model-based systems engineering of cyber-physical systems.

“We’re helping lifelong learning for the existing engineering workforce,” Bollas says. “We’re helping them understand what is the state-of-the-art, and some of the approaches and solutions to the problems they are dealing with in their everyday work. We call this integration of undergraduates, graduate students, and professional engineers a ‘talent eco-system’ that can produce and sustain a modern engineering workforce in the state and for the nation.”

Big Problems, Real Solutions

Bollas is currently collaborating with Collins Aerospace to improve fault detection and isolation methods. The advanced detection algorithms Bollas and his research team are developing are optimized for actively identifying faults during aircraft operation and helping to reduce false alarms. This project has already led to two patent applications filed jointly by UConn and Collins Aerospace.

“We’re transferring what we develop here at the university to actual industry environments, where we have access to all the data, constraints, requirements, and system-specific details. We do this through internships and sabbatical leaves, and this has really been a wonderful model for technology transfer,” Bollas says. “I’m not sure we’d be aware of the significance and limitations of our research if we weren’t working with a technology leader like UTC.”

Bollas again points to the importance of location, both in Connecticut and at Tech Park, to help the institute grow.

“There are so many opportunities generated for the institute just because we are located here,” Bollas says. “We’re working with several other Tech Park centers and their industry partners since they are more and more focused on ‘smart’ processes for manufacturing.”

Bollas is referring to a paradigm shift dubbed Industry 4.0 or “smart manufacturing,” which places emphasis on cyber-physical systems. Cyber-physical systems include physical machines controlled by computer-based algorithms that are deeply ingrained in the so-called Internet of Things. To remain competitive, companies like Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney have been investing in the development of smart manufacturing technologies in their respective industries.

By having access to test beds at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology and the Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Center in the IPB, the UTC-IASE researchers working on smart manufacturing projects with the Department of Energy provide a better picture of how well their research, algorithms, and solutions will work when used in an industrial setting.

“Smart manufacturing solutions are sometimes easy on a computer, but when you actually have to deploy these advanced technologies, it’s very helpful to have test beds we can use right here at the Tech Park,” Bollas says.

Bollas says he is proud of laying a strong foundation for future growth through partnerships with industry and federal agencies on such a large scale. Moving forward, he has no doubt that the research collaborations taking place at UTC-IASE will continue to generate innovative, real-world solutions that help Connecticut and its industry partners grow.

 – Anna Zarra Aldrich ’20 (CLAS), Office of the Vice President for Research


Cleaning up the environment: Dr. Valla receives NSF CAREER Award to remove sulfur from transportation fuels

Julia Valla, Assistant Professor at the Chemical and Biomolecular Environmental Department of the University of Connecticut received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation to research the removal of sulfur molecules from transportation fuels. The award for $500,000 will revolutionize sulfur removal using adsorption in ion exchanged zeolites.  

Valla began working on sulfur removal as a Ph.D student. By the end of the five years of her CAREER project, Valla aims to develop novel filters that can efficiently and economically remove the sulfur molecules from fuels.  

“The CAREER award was very important for me because I can continue research what I started 18 years ago. It is important that I can evolve on findings that I have already created,” Valla said.  

She explained that sulfur molecules found in transportation fuel are toxic. They have adverse effects on the environment and subsequently on humans. Sulfur oxides which can be emitted from cars can cause acid rain, which causes environmental pollution.  

“The reason why I keep pushing this effort is because the sulfur molecules, this impurity has very detrimental effects on the environment and consequently on humans, and on our lives,” Valla said, “The fossil fuels, whether we like it or not, is still our main source of energy. We do need to, of course, be looking to renewable energy resources and put our efforts into research on renewable energy. However, it’s also important to do something about the fossil fuels that we use now.” 

Currently, sulfur is removed from fuels in a process called hydrodesulfurization in the refinery. Valla said the process requires severe conditions and the use of hydrogen makes it an expensive process. Her research will focus on utilizing ion-exchanged zeolites, specifically zeolite Y, which is a porous mineral. The zeolites will be tested for their selectivity in binding to sulfur and not to other molecules in the fuel, and how well they adsorb the sulfur to reach the mandatory government standards.  

The zeolites can be regenerated and reused, which makes them a more affordable alternative to hydrodesulfurization.  

“The major challenge is to create a sorbent that has high selectivity in sulfur molecules, meaning that it will adsorb the sulfur molecules, leaving the other molecules in the fuel intact, ” Valla said.  

This project will be an iterative process that uses experiments and models to “create fundamental knowledge on how the properties of metals and bimetals-exchanged Y zeolites, such as pore size, metals properties, location, oxidation state and interaction, affect the adsorption process.”  

Valla will be working to optimize a zeolite so that it can be extremely selective in finding sulfur molecules and then adsorb them.  

She explained that this research can lead to a product that can have significant impact on the environment and consequently humans. 

“As the regulations become more strict, the refineries need to use more severe and expensive conditions in the hydrodesulfurization process, so if we find something now that’s more economical and visible that will save us a lot of lives, and environmental problems,” Valla said.  


Written by: By Sarah Al-Arshani 

Photography by: Thomas Hurlbut

Dr. Burke: Mimicking Nature to Find a Solution: Polymer Program Receives Federal Funding for Bio-Inspired, Bio-Derived Projects


        In an effort to support the doctoral training of graduate students in the Polymer Program of the Institute of Material Science, a proposal by Kelly Burke, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, was recently awarded funding under the Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) from the United States Department of Education. 

        Burke, a member of the Polymer Program, said that the proposal, which is focused on bio-derived and bio-inspired polymers, is meant to support graduate students as they complete their doctoral coursework and research. The funding permits the recruitment and support of a larger and more diverse cohort of STEM students, with particular focus in growing participation from females and other groups traditionally underrepresented in science and engineering. 

“Really the goal is to provide financial support in the form of tuition, fees, and fellowship stipends for graduate students,” Burke said. “What that means is that we can grow our graduate program. We can support more students, train more students.” 

She said that admitting and training a diverse group of students is important for better representation of our communities as well as for the generating of ideas from teams of people with different perspectives.  

“We want to provide more opportunity for students to earn graduate degrees. This award allows us to provide high-level technical training to our candidates to position them to be leaders and innovators in the field,” Burke said. “Our program aims to equip students with the research and communication skills that they need so they can go out and make the mark that they want to have on the world. This award also allows us to recruit and support qualified people who may not have previously considered graduate school.” 

The theme of the research is focused on creating materials that are “bio-derived” or “bio-inspired” meaning they originate from or are inspired by nature. 

“Nature is the best at doing pretty much everything, including making polymers,” Burke said.   

        The Polymer Program as well as this proposal is multi-disciplinary, combining professors and students from the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, Physics, and Chemistry Departments. Burke said this proposal allows for great collaboration between members of the various departments. 

        The proposal supports 12 different projects that focus on mimicking natural materials to overcome some of the limitations of conventional plastics. 

        Burke explained that a wide range of materials can actually be considered polymers. The projects mainly deal with creating different materials that can interact with various type of surfaces. 

“Our materials are polymers, which are very big molecules. When people think of polymers, they often think about plastics that they encounter daily. Polymers are also things like rubber bands and gels. They can be hard or soft, and they can act like liquids, solids, or in between. There really is a wide variety of materials that are polymers,” Burke said. 

She herself will be working with a biopolymer, silk protein, in hopes of developing a material that can be used on the surface of the intestine to help with symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases. Burke explained that, in some cases, inflammation is caused when the mucus within the intestine erodes and bacteria enters a wound in the wall of the intestine. 

        Burke is interested in designing and chemically modifying silk proteins so that they can be injected into the intestine as a liquid and then form a gel layer to stick to the inside of the organ. 

“You can think about that gel layer just as a physical barrier to help if the mucus is eroded, but it also has a way to deliver treatment locally. A lot of inflammatory bowel diseases have what we call systemic treatments. You have either a pill or injection that treats the symptoms of the disease but that can have some serious side effects,” Burke said.” So, what we’re trying to do is design polymers that can interact at the site of inflammation and that are a localized delivery depot for therapeutics.” 

        For Burke this is a part of a larger interest in looking at how materials can interact with cells. 

        “I’m really interested in influencing cells to function in different ways just using materials. For example, often scientists need to be able to transition adult stem cells into different types of cells, like bone cells, fat cells, or nerve cells. They do this to understand how cells function when they are healthy and diseased. The most common way to do this now would be to deliver chemicals to cause the cells to differentiate and behave in a specific way,” Burke said. “One challenge with transitioning a technology or treatment from the lab into a clinical setting is that there can be undesired consequences when reagents diffuse out and travel to different places in the body.” 

        Essentially this would be a project looking at the possibility of promoting healing in intestinal tissue by delivering a localized treatment for inflammation with a material rather than delivering a potent treatment systemically. 

        “My lab has been very interested in trying to use the properties of a material to affect cellular behavior,” Burke said. “If you can control how cells and tissues function using materials, you may be able to reduce the need to deliver very potent biological molecules. This would open up many new possibilities in regenerative medicine and engineering.” 

        While this is only one project of the many proposed under the grant, all the projects focus on utilizing polymers derived or inspired by natural materials. Some projects focus on material synthesis, while others focus on complex characterization techniques and building computer models to predict their behavior. Many of the projects seek to understand and control the interaction of materials with various surfaces for tangible applications. 


Article by Sarah Al-Arshani 

Photography by Thomas Hurlbut