One chemical engineering faculty, three alumni honored as rising stars


By Jamie Oberdick and Ashley J. WennersHerron

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), chemical engineering’s professional society, has selected a Penn State chemical engineering faculty member and three chemical engineering alumni for its 2020 “35 Under 35” Award.

The AIChE, with more than 60,000 members from more than 110 countries, gives the award to honor engineers under the age of 35 who have made significant contributions to AIChE and the field of chemical engineering.

Amir Sheikhi, assistant professor of chemical engineering, was one of the Penn State-affiliated awardees.

“I am extremely humbled and excited to be recognized as one of the 35 most influential chemical engineers under the age of 35,” Sheikhi said. “It is truly heartwarming to see that our efforts are being recognized by the AIChE, which indeed gives us further driving force to push our research forward.”

Sheikhi’s research focuses on micro-/nano-engineering common bio-based materials to convert them into soft material platforms such as hydrogels and colloidal particles. Hydrogels are polymer networks that can hold a large amount of water inside them, and colloidal particles are microscopic objects often suspended in a fluid. These materials are engineered for tissue engineering and regeneration, body fluid treatment and environmental remediation, among others.

“Our dream is that one day we may save lives or significantly improve the quality of life in the world,” Sheikhi said.

The other awardees include Penn State alumni Abhishek Kar, George Khoury and Zachary Smith.

Kar earned his bachelor of technology in chemical engineering at the National Institute of Technology Durgapur, in India, in 2009 before completing his doctorate in chemical engineering at Penn State in 2015. He is currently a regional associate product manager for Shell, where he supports the development, sourcing, deployment and maintenance of marine, power and industrial products in the Americas.

Khoury earned both his bachelor and master of science degrees in chemical engineering from Penn State in 2009 and 2010, respectively. He completed his doctorate degree in chemical engineering at Princeton University in 2015. He is now a section supervisor at ExxonMobil, leading a team of engineers to use technology and process knowledge to help optimize the Beaumont refinery in Texas.

Smith earned his bachelor of science in chemical engineering at Penn State in 2008, before moving to the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a master of science degree in 2011 and a doctorate in 2014. He also completed postdoctoral training at the University of California, Berkeley. He is now the Joseph R. Mares Career Development Professor of Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researching the design, synthesis and characterization of polymers and porous materials for advanced separation applications in industry.


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Megan Lakatos

“I am extremely humbled and excited to be recognized as one of the 35 most influential chemical engineers under the age of 35.”
—Amir Sheikhi, assistant professor of chemical engineering