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Engineering Professor Receives Top University Research Award

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Erin D. McKenzie
Photo by Thomas Shea.
Photo by Thomas Shea.

More than two decades of studying how gas-discharge plasmas work has earned a Cullen College of Engineering professor the honor of the University of Houston’s 2008 Excellence in Research and Scholarship Award.

Demetre J. Economou, John and Rebecca Moores Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and associate chair of the department, was named a recipient in April.

“Of course I was very excited and honored knowing there were quite a few top-notch professors across campus who could have won this award,” Economou said.

Economou’s research is focused on plasma science and technology, research that impacts everything from microchip manufacturing to plasma television panels. He first became interested in plasmas during his doctoral research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where a simple demonstration by his research advisor hooked Economou.

Since joining UH, he’s developed a combined modeling-simulation-experimental program to study how gas-discharge plasmas—which operate in everyday items such as fluorescent lights—work. These plasmas, he described, have positive and negative charges that cause an electric current to pass through an ionized gas.

Economou’s studies help understand how these complicated systems work. “I translate that understanding into design of plasma reactors for microelectronic device fabrication,” he said.

Through his research, Economou has also developed a method to etch large-area silicon wafers at the nanoscale.

The research award is given yearly to three faculty members in each of the three ranks—assistant professor, associate professor and professor. Individuals with a significant record of outstanding research, scholarship or creative activities in their field are considered for the award, which carries with it a $5,000 stipend.

“This award really belongs to my Ph.D. students,” Economou said. “There have been 22 of them over the years. They did all the hard work.” Economou received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece and his master’s degree and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

His past awards include the Outstanding Teaching Award in 2003 and the Senior Faculty Research Excellence Award in 1999, both from the Cullen College of Engineering. This year he also received the Fluor Daniel Award, the highest honor given by the college.

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