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E. V. Murphree Award In Industrial & Engineering Chemistry

by Jeff Johnson
January 27, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 4

Credit: Courtesy of Joan Brennecke
This is a photo of Joan Brennecke.
Credit: Courtesy of Joan Brennecke

Sponsored by ExxonMobil Research & Engineering

A decade ago, Joan F. Brennecke was one of the first chemical scientists to realize the power of using ionic liquids for chemical separations and then applying that understanding to explore the green chemistry potential of ionic liquids, say several colleagues who recommended her for this ACS award.

Because of Brennecke’s creativity, research, and publications, her colleagues say, her name is attached to most of the field’s literature on ionic fluids and separations, particularly their potential use in cleaner chemistry applications.

Brennecke, 51, is the Keating-Crawford Professor of Chemical Engineering in the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Notre Dame, where she joined the faculty in 1989. She is also director of Notre Dame’s Center for Sustainable Energy.

Ionic liquids, molten salts with a melting point below 100 °C, are typically liquid at room temperature. Their unique characteristics, such as phase changes and thermo­chemical properties, lend their application to a range of problems.

Among them, Brennecke’s research group has focused on developing ionic liquids for separation of carbon dioxide from postcombustion flue gas from coal-fired power plants, the world’s largest source of CO2, a greenhouse gas. The group, she notes, has been awarded funding by both the Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory and by its Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. The demonstration projects have shown that significantly less energy is used when CO2 is captured by ionic liquids rather than by aqueous amine solutions, the more common process.

Brennecke’s work has resulted in more than 120 research publications and 10,500 citations.

However, Brennecke says, publications are “a side product” of academia. “Our students are our main product. Teaching in all its aspects is the most important thing that we do in academia,” including teaching of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

“It is not just imparting knowledge but encouraging them to think and act critically, analytically, and creatively,” she says. “Of course, if we teach well, then there will be lots of high-quality and impactful publications. But the goal is teaching. I think many faculty in the quest for recognition of their research forget this.”

Winning the Murphree Award is a tremendous honor, Brennecke says, as well as wonderful recognition for her research group and a testament to their hard work and creativity. “The list of former award recipients is amazing,” she adds, “including my research adviser Charles Eckert, as well as my academic ‘grandfather’ John Prausnitz and my ‘great-grandfather’ Richard Wilhelm. Chuck Eckert and John Prausnitz have been fabulous mentors and supporters throughout my career.”

She credits her father for initially stirring her interest in chemistry and engineering. “My dad was a Ph.D. chemical engineer and was incessantly curious about everything. That was infectious.”

Brennecke received a B.S. from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1984 and a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 1989. Among her honors, she received the Ipatieff Prize and the Stieglitz Award from ACS and the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award from DOE, and she is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Brennecke will present the award address before the Division of Industrial & Engineering Chemistry.


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