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Mike Bevan '94 studies colloidal interactions

Mike Bevan '94, who graduated in four years with a double major in chemistry and chemical engineering, has received the nation's highest honor for young scientists and engineers.

On June 13, President Bush honored Bevan, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University, and 57 other researchers with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

Shalinee Kishore, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Lehigh, also received a PECASE Award.

Bevan was recognized for his work with colloids, which are tiny particles of one substance suspended in a different substance.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) nominated 20 winners, including Bevan and Kishore. The 38 remaining winners were nominated by NASA, the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies.

PECASE, which was begun by President Clinton in 1996, recognizes the creativity and dedication of young researchers who "show exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge."

NSF chooses nominees from the 350 to 400 professors who annually receive NSF's Faculty Early Career Program (CAREER). When Bevan received the CAREER Award, he learned that he was eligible for the PECASE, but did not think much of it.

"I did not expect to get it," he says. "You don't expect to get awards like this."

Bevan studies colloids, which are tiny particles, "bigger than atoms but smaller than ball bearings," dispersed in another substance. Many everyday objects are made of colloids. Milk is fat droplets (colloids) suspended in water. Latex paints are composed of tiny bits of latex floating in water, and clouds are water droplets floating in the air. Even our blood is a colloid, made of cells suspended in water.

In a dispersion, colloidal particles interact with each other. The interactions of the particles affect the emergent properties of the whole structure.

Bevan uses advanced optical microscopy techniques to study colloidal interactions. "If two particles stay together, then you know they are attracted to one another," he explains. "If they bounce off each other, like billiard balls, then you know they repel each other."

Researchers seek to control these attractive and repulsive forces. Latex paint, which is a colloid dispersion of latex and water, has attractive forces that need to be controlled, Bevan says. These forces allow the colloidal particles in paint to stick to a wall and to each other. If the attractive forces are too strong, the paint becomes too thick to use.

Bevan is working on two projects involving colloids. In one, he is trying to align glass and plastic particles into ordered arrays that would then be built into optical components for computers and other microelectronic devices.

Bevan is also working with a biologist using colloid interactions to prevent the contraction of HIV. HIV infects a cell by attaching to proteins, called receptors, that are located on the cell wall. Bevan and his colleague are using other proteins to block the virus from attaching to a cell's receptors.

Bevan was inspired to study chemistry by his high school chemistry teacher, who arranged for him to conduct research after class and during summers at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster.

When he enrolled at Lehigh, Bevan knew he wanted to continue doing research in chemistry, but he was more interested solving problems with direct applications. These interests led him to chemical engineering.

Bevan graduated from Lehigh in four years with a personalized curriculum leading to a double major in chemistry and chemical engineering.

"I got to sit down with the dean of engineering and the dean of arts and sciences to customize my degree," he says.

Even while pursuing a difficult science-focused course, Bevan says he had time to "enjoy the humanities. Lehigh gave me a well-rounded experience and polished several of my skills."

Bevan graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest honor society, which recognizes students in a wide variety of disciplines for outstanding academic performance. Bevan is also a member of the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society, which was founded at Lehigh.

In order to complete his majors and sample a variety of classes, Bevan took 20-21 credits each semester except his first semester. He still found time to socialize on the weekends and fulfill Lehigh's unofficial motto of "work hard, play hard."

Bevan's work with colloids began at Lehigh. He and his research adviser, Prof. Maria Santore, studied colloids with Rohm and Haas Co., a chemical company. Santore is now a professor of polymer science and chemical engineering at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Santore encouraged Bevan to excel in his classes and to pursue graduate school by showing him bulletin boards and post cards with information about graduate schools.

"Coming from Lancaster - a rural area - grad school was not my first thought," Bevan says. "Many of my extended family are farmers. Maria played a key role in getting me to go to grad school."

Thanks to Santore's efforts, Bevan attended Carnegie Mellon University for his Ph.D. He now teaches graduate and undergraduate elective classes on colloids and polymers at Texas A&M University in addition to core chemical engineering classes.

by Becky Straw '06

Posted on Friday, July 01, 2005

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