Issue Date: February 18, 2008
E. V. Murphree Award in Industrial & Engineering Chemistry
Sponsored by ExxonMobil Research & Engineering Co.
Ask Georges Belfort to name the most important aspect of his career, and he'll say, "my wife, Marlene." The two have been lifelong collaborators both at home, where they raised three sons, and in the lab. In fact, according to Belfort, 5-10% of his academic research is in collaboration with Marlene, a geneticist.
The second person Belfort will mention is Sir Peter B. Medawar. Medawar is a Nobel Prize winner and author of the 1979 book "Advice to a Young Scientist." Belfort highlights two quotes from the book that he says have helped guide his career. First, "Any scientist of any age who wants to make important discoveries must study important problems." And second, "In choosing topics for research, a young scientist must be aware of following fashion."
On the basis of this advice, Belfort says, he "tries not to follow the pack" and "looks for approaches that other people are not using." He also thinks being able to choose the important problems is an innate ability that "you can't easily teach."
Belfort, 67, the Russell Sage Professor of Chemical & Biological Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Troy, N.Y., follows a long line of chemical engineers who possess that innate ability. Past recipients of the E. V. Murphree Award include Warren E. Stewart (1989) and Edwin N. Lightfoot (1994), who, along with R. Byron Bird, wrote the textbook "Transport Phenomena," which Belfort calls "one of the greatest contributions to chemical engineering of the past 50 years." He says he is highly honored to be the next addition to such a distinguished list, adding, "This is one of the premier awards chemical engineers can receive from ACS."
Belfort has certainly come a long way from when he began his undergraduate work at the University of Cape Town, in South Africa. "At the time, I didn't know what chemical engineering was," he says. But he chose his field because the smartest people he knew were studying chemical engineering—"same as today," he adds with a laugh.
Belfort is now a premier scientist in the fields of bioseparations engineering, interfacial science, and affinity separations. He is a leading academic chemical engineer in liquid-phase pressure-driven membrane-based processes.
Among his current work, Belfort is collaborating with a team from Rockefeller University to create a virtual protein-gating machine by elucidating the dynamic behavior and mimicking the molecular machinery of the nuclear pore complex (NPC), one of the largest biological assemblies in cells. The Rockefeller team's work in determining the structure of NPC was featured as one of C&EN's year-end chemistry highlights (C&EN, Dec. 24, 2007, page 13).
In addition, Belfort's group is currently collaborating with his wife, who is a Distinguished Professor at the State University of New York, Albany and director of the Division of Genetic Disorders at the Wadsworth Center, New York State Department of Health, Albany. Their work centers on the use of genetic and separation techniques to overproduce, isolate, and purify desirable proteins from cell lysate by using inteins as controllable, cleavable linkers in fusions.
Belfort received a B.Sc. in chemical engineering in 1963 from the University of Cape Town and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in engineering in 1969 and 1972, respectively, from the University of California, Irvine. He spent four years on the faculty at the School of Applied Science, Hebrew University, in Jerusalem, before joining the faculty at RPI in 1978.
Belfort has edited two textbooks and published more than 160 peer-reviewed papers and 20 chapters in various discourses related to fundamental and applied aspects of synthetic membrane technology. He has also been issued 11 patents for his work. Belfort received the ACS Award in Separations Science & Technology in 1995 and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Gerhold Award in separations in 2000. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2003.
He will present the award address before the Division of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry.
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