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C. Keturakis '09
Chemical Engineering Major

Lehigh senior recognized for catalysis research

Chris Keturakis ’09 placed second in the undergraduate poster competition at a national ChemE convention.

Researchers have known for a long time that, using a catalyst, water reacts with carbon monoxide to form carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas. The hydrogen then provides energy for batteries and fuel cells. For the past 100 years, scientists have been trying to find the mechanism that causes this reaction to occur—a scientific effort in which chemical engineer, Chris Keturakis ’09, has engaged.

“Hydrogen is such a popular alternative fuel. If we know the mechanism for the water-gas shift reaction, then we can finetune the catalyst to create a more efficient reaction and produce more hydrogen,” Keturakis explains.

While he may not have found the magic formula, Keturakis’ work was recognized at the annual convention for the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) in late 2008. He placed second in the poster competition with his project, High Temperature Water-Gas Shift over Supported CrO3/Fe2O3¬ Catalysts.

Keturakis conducted his research in Lehigh’s Operando Molecular Spectroscopy and Catalysis lab, run by G. Whitney Snyder Professor of chemical engineering, Israel Wachs.

Keturakis worked with Wachs since the summer of 2007. In the Operando lab, Wach's team combined Raman, infrared, and UV-vis spectroscopy to better understand how catalytic reactions occur by measuring the scattering of light at different wavelengths.

His Lehigh research led Keturakis to a summer program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) at the Université de Caen Basse-Normandie in Caen, France. Through the International Research and Education in Engineering (IREE) program, the NSF provides funding for select candidates to study in foreign countries. In this case, the Laboratoire de Catalyse et Spectrochimie in Caen has some of the best infrared spectroscopy equipment in the world.

"I was always interested in a study abroad program," admits Keturakis, "but I never really gave it any thought because I wanted to stay here at Lehigh during the school year. Dr. Wachs works with Professor Marco Daturi of the Caen lab, and suggested a summer trip to France to use that lab's premiere equipment to advance my study in the water-gas shift reaction."

A future in research

"I like my research," states Keturakis. "It’s groundbreaking work, and I’ve learned so much because I have to teach myself a lot of the concepts by reading technical papers and simply experimenting." He has applied to a number of top graduate schools, including Lehigh, to further his studies after graduation.

"My goal is a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, but I’m unsure if I want to switch to genetics or stay with catalysis for now," he says. "Eventually, I want to study disease, cancer, and AIDS research and work to find vaccines." Keturakis received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in May 2009.

After graduate school, Keturakis is looking to find work in a medium-sized pharmaceutical company—a place that has the necessary resources for research but also allows room to grow within the business. "I would prefer to work in an industrial atmosphere over an academic one," he admits, "but I’ll work anywhere that allows me to do research."

-Christine Rapp

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