Swihart recognized for groundbreaking work in nanomaterials

By Peter Murphy

Published December 4, 2023

Mark Swihart, SUNY Distinguished Professor and chair in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, was honored by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) for his work developing and using nanomaterials for biological imaging, clean and renewable energy, chemical sensing, and several other applications.

Mark Swihart.

Mark Swihart, SUNY Distinguished Professor and chair, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering

According to AIChE’s Particle Technology Forum (PTF), Swihart, a SUNY Empire Innovation Professor in the University at Buffalo Research and Education in Energy, Environment and Water (RENEW) Institute, received the Shell Thomas Baron Award in Fluid-Particle Systems for “outstanding contributions and sustained innovation in the colloidal and aerosol synthesis of nanomaterials and their applications.”

Swihart’s research focuses on producing new nanomaterials—particles or structures so small their properties depend on their size and shape—for different applications. He and his research group have developed processes for producing new nanomaterials either suspended in a liquid (colloids) or suspended in gas-like fog or mist droplets (aerosols). Swihart’s nanomaterials enable new high-impact applications in several different areas. Using aerosol synthesis, Swihart developed methods to produce bright light-emitting silicon nanoparticles at unprecedented rates, and his research group was the first use these materials in biomedical imaging.

“I would really like to see the unique process we have developed for gas-phase synthesis of nanomaterials be translated into commercial practice. We have had several technologies from my research group licensed to companies, and I am part of two current startups,” Swihart says. “However, to date, none of our technologies have made it into large-scale commercial implementation.”

This process and other methods and materials his research group has developed have been adopted by researchers and industry worldwide.

In recent years, he and his research group have shifted their focus to developing and using nanomaterials for energy applications.

“Right now, there is intense interest in hydrogen as an energy carrier, but it is also a highly flammable and explosive gas. We make sensors for detecting hydrogen gas out of palladium nanowires,” Swihart says. “We need good sensors for monitoring hydrogen to ensure we use it safely.”

Swihart’s work with energy expands beyond developing sensors to monitor the safety of using hydrogen in different applications. His research group has developed different catalysts for reactions that produce hydrogen.

“We have worked on ‘dry’ reforming of methane, which reacts methane—the main component of natural gas and a powerful greenhouse gas—with carbon dioxide—one of the largest contributors to global warming—to produce carbon monoxide and hydrogen,” Swihart says. “Having more efficient catalysts made from abundant low-cost elements make these processes more efficient and affordable.”

AIChE PTF grants the Shell Thomas Baron Award to one person each year. Swihart is the 29th recipient, and several prior winners have gone on to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering. According to AIChE, the award “recognizes an individual’s recent outstanding scientific/technical accomplishment which has made a significant impact in the field of fluid particle systems or in a related field with potential for cross fertilization with relevance to the topics of interest to the PTF community.”

Swihart has advised over 95 graduate students and published over 300 manuscripts, which have been cited over 24,000 times. He is a fellow of AIChE and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His works spans across engineering disciplines, including collaborations with faculty members in UB’s Departments of Chemistry, Physics, Electrical Engineering and Medicine, and at several other universities throughout the world. Swihart joined UB in 1998, and has led multiple campus-wide initiatives, including the UB 2020 Strategic Strength in Integrated Nanostructured Systems and the New York State Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics.