By Nicole Capozziello
Published November 12, 2020
Chemical engineer James Tran was recognized for his work on membrane-based separations with a Graduate Student Research Award from the Separations Division of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).
Tran’s research focuses on modifying the surface of water purification membranes to create a ‘non-stick’ coating that prevents or mitigates fouling caused by the aggregation of contaminants in the wastewater on the surface.
“I’m happy and honored to be recognized by the AIChE Separations Division for this award. This is the cherry on top of the cake for all the hard work during my PhD and gives me confidence to continue pursuing a career in chemical engineering,” says Tran.
Tran works with Haiqing Lin, an associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, in the Laboratory of Innovative Membranes. He received his PhD in chemical engineering in June of 2020 and is now a postdoctoral researcher in the same lab.
“James was an exemplary graduate student with a ‘complete package’—curious about and dedicated to in-depth research, very good at performing experiments in the lab, strong problem-solving skills, able to quickly understand papers and apply them to the research, well-liked by his colleagues, good writing skills, and the desire to drive research projects to completion without sacrificing quality,” says Lin.
“I am happy that James received this well-deserved award and I am also grateful that he came back as a postdoctoral scholar to assist in the Department of Energy (DOE) National Energy Technology Laboratory Air Capture of CO2 program.”
According to Lin, during his research, Tran realized that their lab’s research capabilities would be expanded with the addition of a lab-scale constant-flux crossflow system to evaluate the antifouling properties of the membrane at industrial conditions. This is a complex system and not many academic labs have such equipment. Though Lin initially hesitated, Tran, who enjoys challenges, was not deterred and built the system.
“It has become one of the most popular pieces of equipment in our lab to characterize antifouling properties,” says Lin. “And the work was published in a special issue of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research dedicated to Dr. Donald Paul of the University of Texas, who was also my PhD thesis committee member.”
During his graduate school career, Tran was the first author on five peer-reviewed articles and co-author on an additional five. He presented at conferences such as the American Chemical Society, AIChE, and North American Membrane Society. In 2019, he received the Excellence in Graduate Polymer Research Award from the ACS Division of Polymer Chemistry.
The world’s leading organization for chemical engineers, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) has over 60,000 members from more than 110 countries. The annual Graduate Student Research Award recognizes outstanding graduate students in the separations areas of adsorption and ion exchange, crystallization and evaporation, distillation and absorption, extraction, fluid-particle separations, membrane-based separations, and bioseparations.
To be considered for the award, students had to submit a nomination letter from a faculty member as well as a paper contributing to separations fundamentals or applications on which they were the primary author. They were judged based on the paper’s technical content, organization and writing.
“This award demonstrates that James’ research is being recognized for the impact it’s making within the community, and motivates students in my lab to keep producing high-quality research and overcoming challenges,” says Lin. “The recognition also further strengthens our confidence in the research we are doing in our lab and department.”