ACS Award in Colloid & Surface Chemistry | January 7, 2008 Issue - Vol. 86 Issue 1 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 1 | p. 32 | Awards
Issue Date: January 7, 2008

ACS Award in Colloid & Surface Chemistry

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry
Department: ACS News
Credit: Courtesy of Lee R. White
Credit: Courtesy of Lee R. White

Sponsored by Procter & Gamble

Lee R. White wanted to be a theoretical physicist. But while he was finishing his doctoral degree, an applied math professor talked him into examining the forces between particles in solution.

Colleagues cite numerous examples of White's pioneering contributions to colloid and surface science, but highlight his work in colloidal electrokinetics and the calculation and measurement of surface forces.

White and coworkers established a standard model for colloidal electrokinetics. That is, what happens to particle suspensions in electric fields. The particles' charge properties dictate the behavior of the colloidal system in all sorts of situations, such as whether the particles will clump together or stay as individual particles, White explains. The researchers created a computer program that converts experimental measurements to particle charges, and it is still widely used by researchers around the world.

White continues to work on basic research and industrial applications of electrokinetic theory. For example, he is currently studying how particles behave in nonaqueous solutions such as oils found in engines and electronic displays.

He is also well-known for developing quantitative theory in an area called compressional rheology, which includes separating suspensions from supporting fluids. He has been examining ways to measure the properties of suspensions and predict how solid-liquid separation processes, such as filtering or centrifuging a drug out of suspension, could be modeled and optimized on a plant-size scale.

In the past few years, White has applied this theory to exploring the factors that control cracking of surfaces coated with colloidal suspensions, such as photographic paper. These coatings need to be thick, but they tend to crack during drying, he says. Instead several thin coats are required at added expense. "Working out how to stop thicker films from cracking as they dry would allow for making inexpensive coated products," including solar panels, he says.

White's contributions "have truly changed how colloid science is carried out and how we understand the world around us," says Charles F. Zukoski, vice chancellor for research at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

"Even though I am senior to White, I consider him a mentor," says John L. Anderson, president of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

White, 59, was born and educated in Australia. From the University of Queensland, Brisbane, he received a B.Sc. (1968) and two honors degrees (physical chemistry, 1969; theoretical physics, 1971). In 1975, he completed a Ph.D. in applied math at Australian National University. He did two postdoctoral fellowships in chemistry between 1975 and 1977 at the University of Bristol, in England, and the University of Melbourne, in Australia. Before doing a third postdoc in applied math at Australian National University, he lectured in physical chemistry for a year in Melbourne.

In 1981, he returned to Melbourne where he served as a lecturer in physical chemistry for three years. He then spent the next 14 years there as a professor of math. In 1998, he joined the chemical engineering faculty at Carnegie Mellon University, where he is currently a chemical engineering professor and director of the university's Center for Complex Fluids Engineering.

White will present the award address before the Division of Colloid & Surface Chemistry.

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