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ChBE Chair Mountziaris honored with AIChE's Thomas Baron Award
November 8, 2021
By
Stephen Greenwell
Triantafillos J. (Lakis) Mountziaris, Ph.D., the William A. Brookshire Department Chair of the William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in UH’s Cullen College of Engineering, is the 2021 winner of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' Thomas Baron Award in Fluid-Particle Systems, sponsored by Shell.
Triantafillos J. (Lakis) Mountziaris, Ph.D., the William A. Brookshire Department Chair of the William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in UH’s Cullen College of Engineering, is the 2021 winner of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' Thomas Baron Award in Fluid-Particle Systems, sponsored by Shell.

Triantafillos J. (Lakis) Mountziaris, Ph.D., the William A. Brookshire Department Chair of the William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in UH’s Cullen College of Engineering, is the 2021 winner of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' Thomas Baron Award in Fluid-Particle Systems, sponsored by Shell.

The award recognizes an individual's recent outstanding scientific or technical accomplishment, which has made a significant impact in the field of fluid-particle systems or in a related field with potential for cross fertilization with relevance to the topics of interest to the particle technology community.

Mountziaris was quick to share the credit for the award with his students and research collaborators that he has had in his distinguished career.

“This is a great honor for me, but the majority of the credit goes to my brilliant students and collaborators,” he said.

He almost missed getting the news via the initial phone call informing him about winning the award.

“I received a phone call by the chair of selection committee on my cellphone as I was leaving my office at the end of the work week on a Friday. I initially thought that this could be a spam call because I did not recognize the number, but I decided to answer the call, and I am very glad that I did!”

Mountziaris has been a member of the AIChE since 1982. He was elected a Fellow of the Institute in 2019.

“AIChE has been instrumental in my professional development, being the main professional society for Chemical Engineers in the United States,” he said. “AIChE organizes the most important scientific conferences for my profession that provide opportunities for my students and me to present our research as well as exchange ideas and network with colleagues from academia and industry.”

Mountziaris joined the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering in January 2020 from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, as the new Department Chair for the William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Mountziaris explained that his key accomplishments recognized by the Thomas Baron Award are related to the design of reactors for biomass conversion to fuels and chemicals and to the development of a new process for producing semiconductor nanocrystals.

“The Thomas Baron Award recognizes my group’s scientific contributions related to the design of fluidized bed reactors for producing renewable liquid fuels and value-added chemicals from lignocellulosic ('non-food') biomass, such as wood chips or corn stover,” he said. “The process that our team has developed is called catalytic fast pyrolysis (CFP). CFP utilizes particles produced by drying and grinding biomass feedstocks and breaks them down thermally under an inert atmosphere in the presence of a catalyst that enables conversion of the gaseous products of the thermal decomposition (pyrolysis) of biomass into desirable value-added molecules.”

According to Mountziaris, the process was invented by his collaborator Professor George Huber of the University of Wisconsin-Madison while both were faculty members at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. It is being developed commercially by Anellotech, Inc., of Pearl River, New York. The process has been successfully tested in the company's pilot plant in Silsbee, Texas.

Mountziaris is also recognized for the development of a new process for manufacturing fluorescent semiconductor nanocrystals, also called “quantum dots.”

“These tiny crystals, with sizes smaller than 10 nanometers (billionths of a meter), can be excited by UV light to emit visible light with wavelength (“color”) that is tunable by their size,” he said. “Quantum dots find applications in high color definition displays, solar energy conversion, and as fluorescent tags for biomolecules, to name a few. We have developed a novel synthesis method that enables precise tuning of the size of the nanocrystals, is more environmentally friendly than competing methods, and is scalable for industrial production. We are also pursuing applications in biosensors and drug discovery by conjugating the nanocrystals to probe biomolecules and tracking their interactions with specific biological targets through the light that they emit.””

Mountziaris co-invented this new synthesis process with his research collaborator Professor Paschalis Alexandridis of the University at Buffalo and a former PhD student, George Karanikolos, Ph.D., who is presently an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at Khalifa University of Science and Technology in the United Arab Emirates. A start-up company, The Quantum Technology Group, of Worcester, Massachusetts, is commercializing this technology.

Mountziaris will receive the award and deliver a presentation at the 2021 AIChE Annual Meeting, which takes place in-person from Nov. 7 through Nov. 11 in Boston, and virtually from Nov. 15 through Nov. 19. For more information, visit the organization's website.

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