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Engineering dean wins top award from American Chemical Society

Mohamed S. El-Aasser, dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, has been chosen to receive the Roy W. Tess Award in Coatings for 2002 from the American Chemical Society’s Division of Polymeric Materials Science and Engineering.

El-Aasser, who is renowned internationally for his pioneering research in polymers, will receive the award and give an address on Aug. 26 in Boston, at ACS’ 224th national meeting.

A one-day symposium honoring El-Aasser will be held at the ACS meeting. Presentations will be given by his colleagues and former students and by international researchers who have served as visiting professors and scientists at Lehigh’s Emulsion Polymers Institute.

In three decades as a professor of chemical engineering at Lehigh, El-Aasser has made groundbreaking contributions to a range of topics related to polymers, colloids and coatings, particularly polymer latexes and emulsion and mini-emulsion polymerization. Applications of work in these fields range from latex paints, adhesives and printing inks to medical diagnostic tools and calibration standards.

The ACS credited El-Aasser with "inventing a number of novel approaches, [including] the preparation of hybrid latexes by emulsification of a polymer solution in monomer followed by initiation of polymerization in mini-emulsion droplets. This approach has opened the way for making latexes from natural polymers as well as encapsulation of inorganic pigments and dyes into polymer particles."

In addition, ACS said El-Aasser’s "well-organized and focused research program" improved the mechanistic understanding of emulsion polymerization and addressed such "controversial issues" as relative contributions of different nucleation mechanisms; the fate of radicals in persulfate-initiated emulsion polymerization; the mechanism and rate-determining step of radical entry into monomer-swollen micelles, droplets, or particles; particle nucleation using oil-soluble initiators, and the role of aggregation in particle formation and growth.

ACS also credited El-Aasser with "pioneering the use of reaction calorimetry to obtain reliable kinetic data, which, coupled with analysis of polymerization products, has led to significant breakthroughs in understanding of emulsion polymerization."

In 1983, El-Aasser helped design a reactor that, in zero gravity aboard the Challenger STS-6, synthesized the first products ever made in space. The polystyrene latex microspheres were certified as standard reference materials for calibrating microscopic objects. For his efforts, El-Aasser was named "NASA Inventor of the Year in 1984," an honor he shared with the late John W. Vanderhoff and Fortunato J. Micale, professors emeritus of chemistry at Lehigh.

El-Aasser is also credited with building Lehigh’s Emulsion Polymers Institute (EPI), which he directs, into what some have called the leading organization of its kind in the world. EPI has shaped the polymers industry by educating future leaders and researchers and through collaborative research with industrial partners. Its annual short courses, which El-Aasser organized, have been offered for 25 years at Lehigh and also in Davos, Switzerland, attracting more than 4,000 industrial scientists and engineers.

El-Aasser also founded and was first director of Lehigh’s NSF/IUCRC Polymer Interfaces Center, and is the former director of the university’s Center for Polymer Science and Engineering.

El-Aasser has been principal or co-principal investigator in projects that have received $18 million in funding, attracting grants from NASA, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Office of Naval Research and industrial companies. He has published more than 300 journal papers, edited six books and received nine patents.

Since joining Lehigh’s faculty in 1974, El-Aasser has served as major adviser to 55 Ph.D. students and 53 M.S. candidates, and as co-adviser to 20 Ph.D. students. He has supervised numerous post-doctoral researchers and undergraduate students, and served on 114 dissertation committees.

El-Aasser earned his B.S. and M.S. from Alexandria University in Egypt, and his Ph.D. from McGill University in Montreal. His many awards include Lehigh’s Hillman Award, given for extraordinary service; the university’s Libsch Award, given for oustanding research; the O. Hugo Schuck Best Paper Award from the American Automatic Control Council; and the 1999 Lehigh Chemical Engineering Senior Class Award.

Posted on Tuesday, February 19, 2002

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