The chemical engineering faculty teach and conduct research on fundamental chemical, biological, and transport processes and their application in understanding, designing, and controlling a broad spectrum of complex chemical, biochemical, and environmental processes. The faculty and students utilize their analytical skills and laboratory resources to study diverse processes and to synthesize new materials. The combination of engineering principles, chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics that characterizes chemical engineering at Caltech enables students and faculty to contribute to the solution of a wide range of critical problems and to aid in creating new areas of science and technology.
Areas of Research
Many different research areas are offered to students seeking the degrees of Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy in chemical engineering. Particular research fields emphasized in the department include the following:
- Biological Design and Engineering. Protein engineering by evolution and machine learning. New-to-nature biocatalysis for sustainable production of pharmaceuticals and specialty chemicals. Gene editing and genome engineering of plants.
- Fluid Mechanics and Transport Processes. Mechanics of polymeric liquids, microstructured fluids, colloidal dispersions and suspensions, and granular media. Transport in heterogeneous media.
- Polymer Physics and Chemistry. Molecular understanding of polymer melts, gels and solutions. Optical and rheological properties of polymers. Dynamic modeling of polymer structure and rheology. Synthesis of tailored polymers by chemical and biological means.
- Biomaterials. Synthesis and properties of organic materials designed for use in living systems. Therapeutic modification of existing systems.
- Cellular Engineering. Quantitative analysis and redesign of molecular events governing cell behavior. Plant synthetic biology, bioengineering, and biotechnology.
- Catalysis and Biocatalysis. Synthesis of molecular sieves and organic-inorganic hybrid materials. Synthesis of inorganic membranes for gas separations and catalysis. Biological routes to the synthesis of chemicals.
- Chemical Dynamics and Surfaces: Kinetic-energy-driven, non-catalytic reactions with applications in plasma processing and astrophysical environments. Eley-Rideal reactions and collision-induced dissociation at surfaces. Water-splitting and carbon dioxide dissociation at oxides.
- Complex networks of reactions, cell, and organisms in space and time. Studies of microbial communities in environment and interactions of microbial communities with their human host.
- Microfluidics. Science of single molecules and cells. Fundamental studies of fluid flow and interfacial phenomena. Engineering of solutions to diagnostic and therapeutic problems in Global Health, including antibiotic resistance.
- Nanotechnology. Aerosol synthesis of nanoparticles for micro-electronic and photovoltaic applications. Electrospraying and electrospinning of nanostructured electrolytic materials for energy conversion and desalination. Novel electrodes for fuel cells, batteries, and super capacitors. Nano-membranes. Nanoparticales for biomolecule delivery to plants.
- Environmental Chemical Engineering. Physics and chemistry of atmospheric gases and aerosols, bioaerosols, climate change, bioldegradation of persistent chemicals. Sustainable agriculture through rhizosphere engineering.
- Aerosols and Colloids. Nucleation and growth of particles. Particle formation and reactions. Structure and properties of colloidal dispersions. Aerosol and colloidal particle characterization.
- Applied Mathematics and Computational Physics. Supercomputer applications in fluid mechanics and environmental modeling. Concurrent computing. Asymptotic analyses of transport processes. Data analysis and machine learning.
- Physics of Soft and Active Matter.
- Structures, phase transitions, and dynamics of polymers, liquid crystals, surfactant solutions, gels, colloidal dispersions and active matter.
- Nanoscale Thermodynamics and Dynamics. Flow and crystalization of materials in nanoscale confinement. Wall effects, lattice melting, capillary condensation. Structure, transport and charging/discharging in confined electrolytes.
The chemical engineering laboratories, mainly housed in the Eudora Hull Spalding Laboratory of Engineering and the Warren and Katharine Schlinger Laboratory for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, are well equipped. The facilities include experimental reactors, computational facilities, NMR spectrometers, and numerous special research equipment for molecular simulations, DNA synthesis, and electronic, optical, and chemical measurements.