The 2011 Ruckenstein Lecture Series

Dr. Pablo G. Debenedetti

Princeton University | Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Vice Dean, School of Engineering and Applied Science


The water-mediated tendency of non-polar units to aggregate underlies basic human activities, such as washing, and microscopic natural phenomena, such as protein folding and the formation of biological membranes. Although many aspects of the theory of hydrophobicity are well understood, important questions remain. These include the behavior of water near geometrically and chemically complex protein surfaces; the interplay of kinetics and thermodynamics in controlling surface-induced evaporation, and its possible role in biological self-assembly; and the collapse mechanisms of hydrophobic polymers in water. Recent progress towards an understanding of these problems will be illustrated and placed within the broader context of modern chemical engineering thermodynamics.


Pablo Debenedetti is the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Vice Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton University. He received his undergraduate education at the University of Buenos Aires, and in 1985 obtained his PhD degree in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Debenedetti’s research interests include the thermodynamics and statistical mechanics of liquids and glasses; the structure and thermodynamics of water and aqueous solutions; protein thermodynamics; the theory of nucleation; and metastability. He is the author of one book, Metastable Liquids, and more than 200 scientific articles. Metastable Liquids was named “best scholarly book in Chemistry” by the Association of American Publishers (1997). Debenedetti’s professional honors include the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Young Investigator Award (1987), the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (1989), a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1991), the Professional Progress (1997) and Walker (2008) Awards from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the John M. Prausnitz Award in Applied Chemical Thermodynamics (2001), the Joel Henry Hildebrand Award in the Theoretical and Experimental Chemistry of Liquids from the American Chemical Society (2008), the Distinguished Teacher Award from Princeton’s School of Engineering (2008), and the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching (2008), Princeton’s highest distinction for teaching. In 2008 Debenedetti was named one of 100 Chemical Engineers of the Modern Era by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and served as Chair of Princeton’s Chemical Engineering Department between 1996 and 2004.