Chemical engineers have been improving our well-being for more than a century. From the development of smaller, faster computer chips to innovations in recycling, treating disease, cleaning water, and generating energy, the processes and products that chemical engineers have helped create touch every aspect of our lives.

Current Research Activities

Science and Engineering of Polymers and Soft Materials

Our faculty conducts theoretical and experimental studies of novel or important macromolecules and their applications:

  • Surface-active species: ultrasonic sensor, scanning probe micro-scopy and reflectivity studies of adsorption and self-assembly of highly branched ‘‘dendrimers’’ at the solid-liquid interface, with the aim of creating novel surface coatings;
  • Fluorescence tracer studies of molecular level mobility in ultrathin polymer films with the aim of improving resolution in lithography;
  • Reflectivity studies and computer simulation of flexible polymer adsorption and the response of adsorbed polymer layers to imposed flows with the aim of improving polymer processing operations;
  • Optical micro-scopy studies and numerical simulation of microporous polymer membrane formation with the aim of improving ultrafiltration membrane technology;
  • Synthesis and structural characterization of bio-active polymer surfaces in order to realize new in-vivo devices;
  • Contact angle, x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and reflectivity analysis, and lattice model simulation, of responsive polymer surfaces based on unique polymeric ‘‘surfactants’’ in order to develop ‘‘smart’’ surface-active materials;
  • Preparation and IR/fluorescence characterization of DNA-decorated surfaces for ‘‘recognition’’ of DNA in solution in order to further medical diagnostic technologies;
  • Preparation and characterization via TEM, AFM, and reflectivity of nano-particle– block copolymer composites with the aim of very high density magnetic storage media;
  • Self-consistent field theory of nano-particle–block copolymer composites;
  • Computer simulation and theory of unique ‘‘living’’ polymerization processes important to synthetic polymer production and biological systems;
  • Theory and simulation of irreversible polymer adsorption.

Genomics Engineering 

Research and development of novel bioanalytical reagents, systems, and processes using chemical science, engineering principles, and experimental biological approaches to study problems in genomics are actively pursued in the Department of Chemical Engineering in collaboration with the Columbia Genome Center:

  • High-throughput DNA sequencing;
  • Novel gene chip development and fundamental understanding of the processes involved;
  • Applying the cutting-edge genomic technologies to study fundamental biology and for disease gene discovery.

Biophysics and Soft Matter Physics

Theoretical and experimental biophysics of biological soft matter:

  • Actin filament growth kinetics and its role in living cell motility;
  • DNA hybridization, melting and unzipping;
  • DNA microarrays in biotechnology; model gene circuits;
  • DNA mobility in 2D microfluidics.
  • Physics of synthetic soft matter: nano-particles in mesostructured polymer phases and phase transitions;
  • Universal scaling laws in reacting polymer systems and polymerization phenomena;
  • Polymer-interface adsorption phenomena; polymer interfacial reactions; diffusion of particles in thin polymer films; interactions of charged polymer minigels with interfaces.

Bioinductive and Biomimetic Materials

The thrust of this research is to develop new strategies for the molecular design of polymeric and soft materials for biological and biomedical applications.

Ongoing research pertains to the development of bioactive hydrogel coatings for applications in glucose sensors. The objective of the coatings is to control the tissue-sensor interactions by incorporating cell-signaling motifs into the hydrogel in such a manner that the hydrogel induces the formation of new vascular tissue within the surface coating. In this fashion, the biosensor can continue to operate in vivo, even if there is an immune response leading to fibrous encapsulation.

Complementary research programs are aimed at developing methods for patterning biological surfaces in order to prepare new biocompatible surfaces as well as to fabricate antigen/antibody and protein arrays for diagnostic applications.

Interfacial Engineering and Electrochemistry

Research efforts within the department are focused on mass transfer and reaction mechanisms in electrochemical systems, and the effects that such variables have on process design and materials properties.

Applications of the research program include fuel cells, electrodeposition, and corrosion. Both electrochemical and microscopy methods are used extensively for characterization. A significant numerical simulation component of the research programs also exists. 

Facilities for Teaching and Research

The Department of Chemical Engineering is continually striving to provide access to state-of-the-art research instrumentation and computational facilities for its undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral associates, and faculty. Departmental equipment is considered to be in most cases shared, which means that equipment access is usually open to all qualified inpiduals with a need to use particular instrumentation.

The most extensive collection of instrumentation in the department is associated with the polymer and soft matter research faculty. Faculty banded together to create a unique shared-facilities laboratory, completed at the end of 2001. The shared facilities include a fully equipped polymer synthesis lab with four fumes hoods, a 10’x16’ soft wall clean room, metal evaporator system, a Milligen 9050 peptide synthesizer, and polymer thin film preparation and substrate cleaning stations.

Also installed are new, computer-controlled thermal analysis, rheometric, and light-scattering setups. Specialized instrumentation for surface analysis includes an optical/laser system dedicated to characterization of polymer surface dynamics by Fluorescence Recovery after Photobleaching and a PHI 5500 X-ray photoelectron spectrophotometer with monochromator that is capable of angle-dependent depth profiling and XPS imaging. The system can also perform SIMS and ion scattering experiments. A digital image analysis system for the characterization of sessile and pendant drop shapes is also available for the purpose of polymer surface and interfacial tension measurements as well as contact angle analysis.

An X-ray reflectometer that can perform X-ray standing wave–induced fluorescence measurements is also housed in the new shared equipment laboratory, along with instrumentation for characterizing the friction and wear properties of polymeric surfaces. The laboratory also houses an infrared spectrometer (Nicolet Magna 560, MCT detector) with a variable angle grazing incidence, temperature-controlled attenuated-total-reflectance, transmission, and liquid cell accessories. These facilities are suitable for mid-IR, spectroscopic investigations of bulk materials as well as thin films. The laboratory also has a UV-Vis spectrometer (a Cary 50), an SLM Aminco 8000 spectrofluorimeter, and a high-purity water system (Millipore Biocel) used for preparation of biological buffers and solutions.

Facilities are available for cell tissue culture and for experiments involving biocompatibilization of materials or cellular engineering. In addition, gel electrophoresis apparatus is available for the molecular weight characterization of nucleic acids. A total-internal-reflection-fluorescence (TIRF) instrument with an automated, temperature-controlled flow cell has been built for dedicated investigations of surface processes involving fluorescently tagged biological and synthetic molecules. The instrument can operate at different excitation wavelengths (typically HeNe laser, 633 nm, using Cy5 labeled nucleic acids). Fluorescence is collected by a highly sensitive photomultiplier tube and logged to a personal computer. Because fluorescence is only excited in the evanescent wave region near an interface, signals from surface-bound fluorescent species can be determined with minimal background interference from fluorophores in bulk solution.

Other Facilities Available

  • Chemistry Department
    Access to NMR and mass spectrometry facilities is possible through interactions with faculty members who also hold appointments in the Chemistry Department. The NMR facility consists of a 500 MHz, a 400 MHz, and two 300 MHz instruments that are operated by students and postdocs after training. The mass spectrometry facility is run by students for routine samples and by a professional mass spectrometrist for more difficult samples. The Chemistry Department also provides access to the services of a glass blower and machine shop and to photochemical and spectroscopic facilities. These facilities consist of (1) two nanosecond laser flash photolysis instruments equipped with UV-VIS, infrared, EPR, and NMR detection; (2) three EPR spectrometers; (3) two fluorescence spectrometers; (4) a single photon counter for analysis of the lifetimes and polarization of fluorescence and phosphorescence; and (5) a high-performance liquid chromatographic instrument for analysis of polymer molecular weight and dispersity.
  • Columbia Genome Center
    Because of its affiliation with the Columbia Genome Center (CGC), the Department of Chemical Engineering also has access to over 3,000 sq. ft. of space equipped with a high-throughput DNA sequencer (Amersham Pharmacia Biotech Mega-Bace1000), a nucleic acid synthesizer (PE Biosystems 8909 Expedite Nucleic Acid/Peptide Synthesis System), an UV/ VIS spectrophotometer (Perkin-Elmer Lambda 40), a fluorescence spectrophotometer (Jobin Yvon, Inc. Fluorolog-3), Waters HPLC, and a sequencing gel electrophoresis apparatus (Life Tech-nologies Model S2), as well as the facilities required for state-of-the-art synthetic chemistry. The pision of DNA sequencing and chemical biology at the Columbia Genome Center consists of 6,000 sq. ft. of laboratory space and equipment necessary for carrying out the state-of-the-art DNA analysis. The laboratory has one Amersham Pharmacia Biotech MegaBace1000 sequencer, three ABI 377 sequencers with complete 96 land upgrades, a Qiagen 9600 Biorobot, a Hydra 96 microdispenser robot, and standard molecular biology equipment.
  • NSF-Columbia MRSEC Shared Facilities
    Through their participation in an NSF-MRSEC grant, faculty also have access to shared facilities located in the Schapiro Center for Engineer-ing and Physical Science Research at Columbia University. The shared facilities include a Scintag X2 X-ray diffractometer aligned for low-angle reflectivity work, and a Beaglehole Instruments Picometer modulated ellipsometer. As needed, these capabilities are available for characterization of the surface coverage and composition of modified surfaces and thin organic films. Access to atomic force microscopy, scanning and transmission electron microscopy, and scanning tunneling microscopy is possible through collaborations within the NSF-MRSEC program and with colleagues in the Chemistry and Materials Science Departments. The NSF-Columbia MRSEC facility is located within five minutes’ walking distance from the Chemical Engineering Department.


Chemical Engineering Department
Columbia Engineering
Seeley W. Mudd building, Room 801
500 West 120th Street
New York, NY 10027 USA
Phone: (212) 854-4453
Fax: (212) 854-3054
Email: [email protected]