Professional Award in Chemical Engineering goes to Andrea Wilson

October 26, 2018

Andrea Wilson, 2018 Professional Award in Chemical Engineering Award WinnerAndrea Wilson was recognized as the 2018 Professional Award in Chemical Engineering during the annual Speed School homecoming dinner held October 26 at the Brown Hotel.

Wilson is Michter’s Master of Maturation as well as its Executive Vice President - General Manager. As Michter’s Master of Maturation supporting Master Distiller Pamela Heilmann, she manages barrel specifications, barrel procurement, heat cycling and temperature monitoring during aging, tracking maturation of barrels, whiskey filtration in preparation for bottling, and innovation to continue to improve the aging process.

Admired for her accomplishments in the whiskey industry, Wilson has been involved in all aspects of making Michter’s whiskeys. Prior to joining Michter’s, she spent over ten years with Diageo in various whiskey related positions including Director of Distillation and Maturation, North America - overseeing both the U.S. and Canadian distillation and maturation programs. Prior to her departure from Diageo she was the company’s Director of Whiskey Strategy for North American operations.

Becoming the first woman to ever serve as Chair of the Kentucky Distillers Association is among the many honors achieved by Wilson during her illustrious career. She holds a Master of Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Louisville, and she has been highlighted in the KET television documentary, Kentucky Bourbon Tales: Distilling the Family Business.

Gupta receives NSF award for hydrogen energy research

July 13, 2018

Headshot Gautum GuptaRecently, Dr. Guatum Gupta was awarded an National Science Foundation award for $474,477.00 for his work to find affordable and sustainable alternatives to produce catalysts to convert hydrogen to energy. The award, which started on July 1st and runs until June 30th, 2021, was provided to principal investigator Dr. Robert Buchanan from the department of Chemistry, with Gupta serving as co-investigator. Together, Gupta and Buchanan and their team, including doctoral student Alex Gupta, hope to utilize water as an alternative energy source in a bid to diversify our global energy portfolio.

Currently, one method for producing hydrogen, the core element needed in the production of the hydrogen gas that serves as the fuel source, is platinum. An expensive and rare mineral, platinum is a catalyst that allows for the binding of hydrogen and protons, which are then combined in the process. A costly element at approximately $830 per ounce at the time of this writing, platinum is limited as a resource for sustainable renewable energy.

“We are going to deplete our fossil fuels. We need to cut down emissions too. In the long term solar and water is your friend,” said Gupta. “The long term goal you would like to use solar energy to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen.”

The project serves to enrich a variety of interdisciplinary efforts, by encouraging not on a relationship between Chemical Engineering the Department of Chemistry, but through their mutual work with the Conn Center for Renewable Energy. Concurrently, the project offers two graduate students, including Alex Gupta, the opportunity to engage in a diverse range of skills and research experiences, while making contributions to the overall project.

“In a more micro-sense, there have been more catalysts identified, which was a big draw for me,” said Alex Gupta of his interest in the project. “Even before the realization of hydrogen for an economy, there is so many uses for it that cheaper hydrogen can make in a positive way.”

The scope has vast implications for revolutionizing how we explore alternative energy sources. Beyond just utilizing hydrogen as a power source, it’s a primary ingredient in fertilizers, a utility that will eventually touch everyone.

“We didn’t become seven billion people because of the good oxygen, it was because of agriculture. Every person is affected,” said Gupta. “If you make hydrogen, it will end up in everyone’s body by the time that you are done."

Currently, Gupta and his team are working to resolve three fundamental losses in the process in thermodynamic, kinetic, and transport energy. These are energy sources part and parcel to the replenishment of electrodes to the catalyst, which is the core of process process to yield hydrogen. The idea is that in minimizing those loses, it will make for a better and more highly active catalyst that will last longer.

For example, ideally, if platinum lasted 5000 hours, the idea is to create something with a longer shelf life that can provide continuous resources.

“We just want to decrease the amount of energy that we give this catalyst,” said Gupta. “Thermodynamics, kinetic and transport, everything is important in this process.

Senior Marcus Schwarting Publishes Two Papers

April 27, 2018

 Marcus Schwarting, a senior double majoring in Chemical Engineering and Math, recently had a hand in the publication of two papers. Both papers attend to research involving material science, particularly aimed at the creation of a the Materials Genome Initiative, a measure comparable to the Human Genome Project, housed in an accessible cloud based database, which seeks to “enhance the United States' global competitiveness by cutting in half the current time and cost of bringing new material from the laboratory to the marketplace.”

Schwarting is part of a team looking to explore and streamline that research. “Right now there are whole teams of post-docs making small changes, and instead the computer is processing all of that," he said. "It’s doing so in a way that incorporates everything we know up until now."

With a background in Computer Engineering and Computer Sciences, Schwarting elected to pursue degrees in chemical engineering and math to round out his interests. Since high school, Schwarting has been a high achiever, starting a company during that time that detected small imperfections in the digital fingerprint of cellular devices. After developing the program, Schwarting drew the attention of the Department of Defense. It was through those relationships that he was introduced to contacts at the Department of Energy, where he currently works as a software engineer, the exploration of datasets, which inspired his current research.

His first paper entitled, “An open experimental database for exploring inorganic materials,” deals with utilizing machine learning to explore a database of inorganic materials. The database is housed on a single api and hosted in Golden, Colorado, accessible from the cloud, which allows Schwarting and his colleagues the opportunity to explore.

“What I find most exciting from a machine learning perspective, is that we’re a year or two years away from telling a computer that I want to make this material that has never been made before, and it will synthesize that data from all over that’s now collected, and optimize on that," said Schwarting. "In its final stages, you can input on computer a particular kind of diode. And you can come back two weeks later, and that material has been made for you.”

For his second paper, “Automated algorithms for band gap analysis from optical absorption spectra,” Schwarting waited until his first paper was out, in an effort to keep the two in dialogue, an academic call and response. Here Schwarting served as the lead on the paper, which attends to the concept of a band gap, which is the minimum amount of energy required, as it relates to materials.

“It’s important to know how much electricity to run through a piece of equipment to get through the device. That’s super important, because that determines how much power will my computer consume," said Schwarting. "For different materials, it tends to be very difficult to calculate this quantity. Not because the test to find this are hard, but the analysis on the back end can be hard."

“When I talk about an automated algorithm tool. No one has bothered to do the work to find the band gap. Another popular application would be for solar panels, for any sort of electrical current being carried through a material. The band gap is a very necessary quantity to carry.”