Four new faculty members join Department of Chemical Engineering


By Jamie Oberdick

UNVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Four new researchers are joining the faculty of Penn State’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

Rui Shi joined the department as an assistant professor with an affiliation with the Institutes of Energy and the Environment on Aug. 15. Prior to joining Penn State, Shi completed her postdoctoral training at the University of Illinois.

Shi researches the environmental impacts of biochemicals, transportation fuels and agricultural systems by linking traditional engineering metrics with sustainability modeling and analysis. Her past research work included several bioenergy projects funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As a doctoral student, she worked at the U.N. Secretary General’s Office and the U.N. Development Program.

Shi leverages technologies for sustainability transformation, particularly in the areas of environmental life cycle assessments, sustainable design, food-energy-water systems and decision making under uncertainty. By investigating energy technologies and infrastructure, Shi works to predict system-level implications of changes to factors such as design, technology innovation and policy on food, water and energy. In turn, this will help others prioritize research and development goals and set explicit targets to advance the environmental and economic sustainability of these broad systems, especially related to climate change.

“Climate change has already resulted in a wide range of impacts across every region of the globe; we need to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts,” Shi said. “Research needs to be aligned with solving the problem.”

Konstantinos Alexopoulos joined the department as an assistant research professor on Sept. 8. Prior to joining Penn State, he was a member of the Vlachos Research Group at the University of Delaware.

Alexopoulos researches computer modeling of improved catalysts for uses in emission control and shale gas conversion technology. He develops modeling tools to be used in practices such as decreasing pollution and making fuels and useful chemicals from waste products. As a result of his activities and collaborations, he has co-authored more than 25 publications in high-ranking scientific journals.

Alexopoulos said he finds Penn State’s interdisciplinary approach to research to be a major benefit.

“Penn State does a great job at promoting interdisciplinary research,” Alexopoulos said. “For example, Penn State’s partnering with the climate solution group Project Drawdown captured my attention as I was browsing Penn State’s websites.”

Bert Chandler will join the department in January 2021 as a professor, with a joint appointment in the Department of Chemistry. He currently is a professor of chemistry at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Chandler has served as the chair of the Southwest Catalysis Society, on the board of directors of the Organic Reactions Catalysis Society and on the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Research Corporation for Science Advancement.

Chandler researches solid catalysts where the primary components of the catalyst material are small metal nanoparticles consisting of a few hundred to a few thousand atoms. He works to understand how these metal nanoparticles direct different reactions and how to tune nanoparticle chemistry to produce highly selective chemical reactions.  This fundamental understanding helps his group think creatively about new chemistries to improve energy efficiency and better utilize natural resources such as shale gas.

For Chandler, Penn State’s reputation and his past work with Penn State researchers are two reasons he is excited to join the University.

“Penn State has the reputation of being a world-class research institution, especially in chemistry and chemical engineering,” Chandler said. “I have collaborated with Penn State chemical engineering faculty for over a decade and have always been impressed with the people here, both as outstanding scientists and as outstanding people.”

Lauren Greenlee will join the department in August 2021 as an associate professor. She is currently on the chemical engineering faculty at the University of Arkansas.

After receiving her bachelor’s of science degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan, Greenlee spent several years working abroad in France and Switzerland before obtaining her master of science and doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin. Before joining the University of Arkansas in 2015, she held a National Research Council postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). She continued at NIST as a staff scientist and project leader.

Greenlee researches how to solve current and future engineering problems at the nexus of water, energy and agriculture. This includes a focus on treating wastewater in ways that enable energy sustainability and recovery of critical resources, such as alternative fuels and recycled fertilizer products.

Greenlee said that one of the reasons why she is looking forward to coming to Penn State is working with students on her research.

“I’m excited to work with the students at Penn State and to also connect my classroom students with the research topics that we are passionate about,” Greenlee said. “I really hope to build teams, get involved in new and different research topics, work collaboratively with faculty and students and bring exciting projects into the Penn State community.”


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Megan Lakatos