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An early career boost for a teacher-scholar
Mark A. Snyder hopes to make his mark on the future of the nanoscale world of membranes, and on the education of future scientists and educators.

To work toward both goals, Snyder, an assistant professor of chemical engineering, recently received a five-year, $400,000 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation for a project titled “Hierarchically-Structured, Ultra-Thin Inorganic Membranes.”

The CAREER Award, one of NSF’s most prestigious grants, is given to junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research.

The award will allow Snyder and his students to continue their studies of ultra-thin, nanostructured carbon films for high-flux and high-selectivity carbon molecular sieving-based membranes aimed at transformative improvements in low-energy gas and liquid separations.

A major challenge facing the chemical industry, says Snyder, is the energy cost associated with the distillation processes that are used to separate and purify chemicals.

Snyder’s group uses nanotechnology to form, and tune the thickness and microstructure of, porous thin films and membranes that can perform separations. Employing these ultra-thin inorganic membranes promises to significantly reduce a company’s energy costs.

Specific applications could include shale gas relevant separations of carbon dioxide and methane, and purification of high-value chemicals derived from biomass instead of petroleum-based sources.

In another component of the grant, Snyder will develop an educational outreach program and work with middle and high school science teachers, as well as undergraduate students.

Snyder, the faculty adviser for Lehigh’s student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), envisions a variety of avenues for sharing and developing his outreach activities, from working with Lehigh Valley science educators and students in classrooms or labs to showcases at science fairs.

“The goal would be to help students to understand the concepts of diffusion, molecular-scale transports and separations, and to see the applications in their lives,” says Snyder.

Snyder, who directs the Porous and Functionalized Nanomaterials Lab, earned a B.S. in chemical engineering from Lehigh in 2000 and a Ph.D. in 2006 from the University of Delaware.

At Lehigh, he served as P. C. Rossin Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering from 2009 to 2011 and as Frank Hook Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering from 2011 to 2013. He is one of two faculty members recently chosen to receive the university’s Early Career Award for Distinguished Teaching for 2014.

His other awards include the 2010 W. David Smith Jr. Graduation Publication Award from AIChE’s Computing and Systems Technology division.