CULLEN COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING

University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering

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Chemical Engineering Professor Doubles as Superhero

By: 

Erin D. McKenzie
Nikolaou
Nikolaou

In cartoons and comic books they fight bad guys with the type of powers a few can only dream up in their imagination.

But superheroes that protect the planet with X-ray vision, super-human strength and telepathy are not just tucked away on the pages of comic books. One just so happens to be at the University of Houston, and he is making our world a better place through automation.

Dubbed Professor Solution, he is one of six Automation Avengers chosen by the International Society of Automation (ISA) that are dedicated to inspiring youth to pursue careers focused on science and automation.

“A little while ago, the ISA embarked on a campaign to promote engineering and automation among middle and high school students. They asked all ISA members to write something about their job being cool,” said Michael Nikolaou, who for more than a decade served as a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UH before adding Professor Solution to his title. “It’s like they say, the rest is history.”

Nikolaou was one of more than 300 to respond to the call, according to Kimberly Belinsky, senior administrator and workforce development team leader for ISA. Since then, he has worked alongside the organization to mold his character—a muscular spandex clad superhero with a long cape that boasts many impressive powers. Among them, the ability to control objects from a distance, teach kids everything he knows, create magic and change into different experts at the snap of a finger—always with the help of a sidekick.

These superhero powers aren’t too far off from his abilities in real life.

In addition to teaching both graduate and undergraduate level courses for the Cullen College of Engineering’s department of chemical and biomolecular engineering, he spends many hours trying to improve society through research. Much of his work deals directly with automation.

It’s a field he’s been quite successful in. Through his work, Nikolaou has helped develop techniques and technology to ensure the quality of Frito Lay snacks. He’s using mathematical models to bring new antibiotics to the market faster and has aided in creating technology, for which he holds a patent, to extract oil from the ground.

They are accomplishments these avengers share at ISA events to help persuade middle and high school students to follow a science and engineering related career path. Nikolaou has already made one appearance. Last October, he attended the organization’s annual meeting in Houston with fellow avenger, Coaster Cop.

But the development of characters and their subsequent appearances are just the first step, Belinsky assures.

“There will be other things to come in the future,” she said, noting the idea could evolve into a comic book featuring the current six avengers and two others that are in production.

For Nikolaou, who already considers his work to be more of a hobby, adding the chance to be a superhero couldn’t get much better.

“I grew up idolizing my own comic book characters—Popeye, Mickey Mouse and Lucky Luke,” he said, reminiscing about his youth growing up in Athens, Greece. “This campaign is really something I can support and kids can relate to. It shows them that without automation our entire technical infrastructure would be at a standstill. Through these characters we get to share with these kids that what we do actually matters and connects to things they see in the real world.”

To learn more about Professor Solution and the other Automation Avengers, visit:http://www.automationfederation.org/iau2m8/2009/automationavengers.html.

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