Chemical & Life Science Engineering

Areas of Research

Faculty members in the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering are involved in several interdisciplinary cutting-edge areas of research in traditional as well as modern aspects of chemical and life science engineering. We have access to outstanding facilities such as the Wright Virginia Microelectronics Center and a new Nanomaterials Core Characterization Center with state-of-the art tools such as XPS, SEMs and TEM. Faculty members actively interact with other faculty members in VCU Life Sciences and the VCU School of Medicine. Funding comes from public and private sector entities, and sponsored research areas include specialties in both life science engineering and chemical engineering.

Departmental research interests and specific projects are listed below.

Systems biological engineering lab

Stephen S. Fong, Ph.D.

Utilizing computational and experimental techniques to model, design, construct and characterize biological function

  • Building and analysis of whole-cell models for metabolic pathways to study and predict whole-cell function

  • Engineering of multiple microorganisms to convert cellulose into biofuels such as ethanol and butanol

  • Studying how organisms adapt over time at the molecular level to improve function and stability of chemical production organisms

  • Design and construction of individual components of biological systems to understand basic biological design principles and to implement novel function and control

Learn more about this lab

Pharmaceutical engineering lab

B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D.

Development of new technologies for the production of active pharmaceutical ingredients

  • Design and development of new catalysts that can be used in the assembly of complex, biologically active molecules and in continuous synthetic pharmaceutical applications

  • Alternative chemical reactor designs using “continuous flow process technology” and non-conventional heating by microwave irradiation to increase chemical reactions rates

  • Novel methodologies in the design and preparation of palladium nanocatalysts to be used in conjunction with (continuous flow) microreactors for the synthesis of complex organic molecules

Supercritical fluids lab

Mark A. McHugh, Ph.D.

Understanding polymer solution behavior and scattering phenomena at high pressures and using supercritical fluid solvent technologies to create novel materials, such as conductive polymeric foams, particles for pharmaceutical applications, micro and nanofibers, and micro-to-nanocellular structures used as fuel cell membranes and artificial tissues

  • Novel acute rescue strategies using nonpulmonary oxygenation

  • Behavior of hyperbranched polymers at high pressures

  • Experiments and modeling for mixtures containing light hydrocarbons, water and CO2 at geologically-relevant conditions

Learn more about this lab

Protein and Cellular Engineering lab

Michael H. Peters, Ph.D.

Fundamental investigations in life sciences in the areas of cellular engineering, in-silico drug discovery and screening, and statistical mechanics

  • Protein Engineering- the molecular design and development of peptides and proteins for the creation of biomarkers, biosensors, drugs, biomaterials, and other bioengineering devices and components

  • Cellular Engineering- the purposeful manipulation of cells to accomplish tasks outside of their normal function. The manipulations can be internal to the cell (intracellular modifications), such as genetic engineering, or external to the cell (extracellular), such as artifically directed differentiation

  • Statistical Mechanics- statistical mechanics is the merger of classical or quantum mechanics with statistics and averaging methods. The central theme of statistical mechanics is the concept of an ensemble of similar systems all subject to the same constraints. When we observe every day phenomena what we sense is usually an average over space or time. The “statistics” part of statistical mechanics tells us how to properly perform this average in order to predict measured quantities.

Learn more about this lab

Surface science and polymer engineering

Kenneth J. Wynne, Ph.D.

Surface science including functional polymer surfaces, nanostructured coatings for control of marine fouling, polymer surface modifiers, nanocomposites, and the development of fuel cells and lithium ion conductors

  • Engineered control of soft surface composition and morphology

  • Investigations of novel surface properties of polyoxetanes and copolyoxetanes

  • Leveraged control of surface properties via polymer surface modifiers and polymer processing

  • Surface concentration of quaternary charge via polymer surface modifiers

Nanoscience and biomaterials engineering lab

Vamsi K. Yadavalli, Ph.D.

Nanoscale approaches to understanding and engineering fundamental molecular interactions for the design of novel molecular scale biomaterials, nanodevices and therapeutics

  • Studying inter-molecular interactions between proteins and other proteins or proteins and DNA or proteins and synthetic surfaces

  • Nanoscale mechanical property measurements in biopolymers and biomaterials

  • “Bottom-up” nanoscale self-assembly processes to fabricate and characterize new kinds of materials based on biomimetics

  • Design of microfluidic devices to synthesize novel materials and biomaterials