Michele Galizia, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Gallogly College of Engineering at the University of Oklahoma, has received a 2021 National Science Foundation Early CAREER Development grant to continue his research focusing on membrane technology, a technique that separates molecules from mixtures by size and shape. About 10% of global energy consumption is devoted to these chemical separations and enhancing the energy efficiency of industrial separations is crucial to decreasing costs and controlling environmental pollution.
The five-year grant - CAREER: Engineering polymers cohesive energy density and free volume for highly selective organic separations - begins Sept. 1 and has a total anticipated award amount of $543,641.
"This project will combine experimental and computational approaches to discover a new class of materials prepared by properly manipulating the structure of polymer membranes," Galizia said. "I am thankful for the grant from the National Science Foundation that will allow my team at OU to discover, synthesize and understand next-generation polymer membranes," said Galizia, a faculty member in the Department of Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering. Galizia notes that the separation process is vital to modern life. Foods, cosmetics, medicines, detergents - all involve complex mixtures.
"Let's consider the drugs that many of us take every day. Most people see them as just a pill or a liquid that we inject in our body - but that is just the end of the story," he said.
The preparation process involves the handling of a complex mixture of reactants, Galizia says. "Drugs are not prepared as a solid or as a pure liquid. They must be purified and have all the solvents and other chemicals removed that cannot be injected in the body."
Another critical component of the CAREER award involves educational and outreach opportunities. Classes for middle and high school students in Norman, as well as advanced workshops for scientists in Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona, will take place over the next five years. Galizia's research also will entail working with teachers at Dibble (Oklahoma) Public Schools in Blanchard.
The NSF grant provides new opportunities for OU's chemical engineering students.
"I worked in the medical field for the better part of a year after graduation," said Will Box, an OU alumnus who recently returned to the university to pursue a doctorate in chemical engineering. "But I realized I really missed research - and missed polymers - so I came back to OU to work on a Ph.D. It's been just awesome."
NSF's CAREER awards are five-year grants that are awarded to early-career faculty who show potential to serve as academic role models. Galizia joined OU's faculty in 2017. He earned a master's degree and a doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Bologna in Italy.
The mission of the Gallogly College of Engineering at the University of Oklahoma is to foster creativity, innovation and professionalism through dynamic research, development and learning experiences.