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Chemical Engineering Chairman Elected as AIChE Fellow

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By: 

Audrey Grayson

Mike Harold, M.D. Anderson Professor and chairman of the chemical and biomolecular engineering department at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering, has been elected as a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE).

AIChE is the world’s leading organization for chemical engineering professionals, boasting more than 45,000 members from over 100 countries. The organization is dedicated to promoting excellence in the chemical engineering profession through advancing education, career development and professional standards within the field.

“It’s an honor to be elected as an AIChE fellow,” Harold said. “It reflects the investment I’ve made as a professor in my vocation, and it’s a great honor to be recognized in that capacity.”

Fellowship in AIChE represents the highest grade of membership in the organization; less than 5 percent of all AIChE members receive the honor of being elected as a fellow of the organization. Fellow status is reserved for AIChE members who have demonstrated service to the profession and significant professional accomplishment, in addition to providing uncompensated volunteer service to the organization itself.

“I’ve been pretty involved with AIChE through the years,” Harold explained, adding that he first joined AIChE as a chemical engineering undergraduate student at Pennsylvania State University in the late 1970’s. Harold said he encourages all of his undergraduate students to get involved with AIChE as soon as they step foot in the door on their first day of college.

“Being a member of AIChE has professional and personal benefits. Joining these professional organizations is very important as a student. It’s a great way to network with alumni and chemical engineers in industry who can offer you job opportunities – and that doesn’t stop once you graduate,” Harold said. “When you get out there and start your career, staying a member of AIChE is a great way to network with friends and colleagues in the chemical engineering field. Also, AIChE offers short courses and training that keeps you up to speed on the latest developments in safety, design, and other parts of the profession.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1980, Harold moved to Houston to pursue his Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering. “I came to the University of Houston because of its reputation in chemical engineering and chemical reaction engineering, specifically,” Harold explained.

Harold earned his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the Cullen College in 1985, studying under the guidance of his now-colleague Dan Luss. After graduating, he took a faculty position at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he became a tenured associate professor. However, it wasn’t long before Harold wanted to get his hands dirty with research again – particularly the kind that solves real-world problems.

“I wanted to put into practice what I had learned at the academic, fundamental level,” Harold said. So, in the early 1990’s Harold did the unconventional – “I left academia with tenure to go to industry, so people thought I was a little nuts.” Harold took an R&D position with the DuPont Company, doing what Harold said he loves most, “practicing things where my expertise lies.”

In the late 1990s, though, the company began to shift its focus away from chemical conversions, Harold’s areas of expertise. Coincidentally, around that time, he was approached by the UH Cullen College of Engineering about the recently opened chairman position in the department of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “It took a few months of thinking, visiting and convincing my wife to move again, but I came back to the University of Houston in 2000,” Harold said.

His first stint as department chairman ran from 2000 to 2008. It was during this period that Harold founded the Texas Center for Clean Engines, Emissions and Fuels (TxCEF), then known as the Texas Diesel Testing and Research Center. As founding director and principal investigator of TxCEF – a position he still holds today – Harold created an infrastructure where he could put his research to good use, as well as one that helped strengthen the department and college as a whole.

For the past 14 years, Harold has focused his research on energy and environmental problems.  Going beyond the research, he and his colleagues established TxCEF  toto help improve air quality in the Houston region and beyond through the development of  technologies that reduce harmful vehicle emissions, performing testing and verification of emission-reducing technologies developed by third parties, and working to improve fuel economy for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

“I saw starting [TxCEF] as an opportunity to help solve some of our pressing air pollution problems faced in the Houston region. The technical challenges were aligned with the research expertise and interests of myself and some of my faculty colleagues. The activities [at TxCEF] exposed us to practical issues that had fundamental roots. We could attack the practical issues with applied research and the fundamental roots with basic research,” he said.

In addition to the research he conducts through TxCEF, Harold’s work has expanded to include the development of biofuels from aquatic biomass, methane conversion to chemicals, and high purity hydrogen generation for fuel cells. And last year, Harold began his second stint as chairman of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

Over the years, Harold has devoted much of his free time to advancing AIChE through his involvement in several volunteer positions over the span of his career. In the late 90’s, Harold was one of several AIChE members members  in establishing the then-brand new Catalysis and Reaction Engineering Division of AIChE. Then, from 2005 to 2008, Harold served as chair of the AIChE Publication Committee, a group of professionals and industry representatives responsible for overseeing AIChE’s various publications.

Shortly after Harold’s term as AIChE Publications Committee Chair ended, he began serving as a member of AIChE’s Chemical Technology Operating Council in 2009. Then, in 2011, Harold was elected as the 7th editor in the 50+ year history of the AIChE Journal. “The AIChE recognizes Fellows as the members  lend their talents to the organization. I’ve given back a lot to the AIChE and I’m proud of that, so it feels good to be recognized by the Institute. ” Harold said.

Harold’s all-around outstanding dedication as an educator, scholar, researcher and colleague won him the University of Houston’s most prestigious faculty honor, the Esther Farfel Award, just last year. In 2010, Harold also won the UH Cullen College of Engineering’s Outstanding Teaching Award and Fluor-Daniel Faculty Excellence Award.

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