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El-Aasser recognized by American Chemical Society

Mohamed S. El-Aasser

Mohamed S. El-Aasser, Lehigh University provost and vice president for academic affairs, has been elected a Fellow of the American Chemical Society’s Division of Polymeric Materials Science and Engineering (PMSE).

The award is the second top honor that El-Aasser has received in five years from PMSE. In 2002, he was chosen to receive the division’s Roy W. Tess Award in Coatings.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is the largest professional organization in the U.S. for chemists and chemical engineers. Founded in 1876, it has 158,000 members worldwide.

The PMSE Division of ACS promotes the exchange of information pertaining to the chemistry of plastics, paints, adhesives, composites, biomaterials and other polymeric materials.

The PMSE elects about a third of the scientists and engineers who are nominated each year for fellowship in the division. El-Aasser and three other new PMSE Fellows will be inducted March 26 during a meeting of the ACS in Chicago.

A leader in polymers research

El-Aasser, a professor of chemical engineering, was appointed Lehigh provost in 2004 after serving three years as dean of the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science (RCEAS). In his 35-year career with Lehigh, he has also served as department chair of chemical engineering and as director of the Emulsion Polymers Institute (EPI), the Center for Polymer Science and Engineering (CPSE) and the Polymer Interfaces Center (PIC).

El-Aasser is known internationally for his pioneering research in polymers, particularly polymer latexes and emulsion polymerization and their application to surface coatings, and for his role in building Lehigh’s EPI into the leading organization of its kind in the world. He and his EPI research group pioneered the field of miniemulsions.

Polymers are natural or synthetic compounds, usually of a high molecular weight, that contain millions of repeated and linked units. Emulsion polymers are submicroscopic polymer particles dispersed as colloids (tiny solid particles that do not dissolve) in a continuous medium. They are used in synthetic rubber, adhesives, latex paints, printing inks, reinforcement materials, diagnostic tests and a host of other applications.

El-Aasser’s diverse and often groundbreaking contributions to his field—described in more than 300 journal papers, nine patents and six edited books—span basic and applied research and cover a wide range of topics related to polymers, colloids, coatings and reactor engineering.

One of El-Aasser’s major achievements came in 1983 when he helped design a reactor that, in zero gravity aboard the Challenger STS-6, synthesized the first products ever made in space—polystyrene latex microspheres that 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 his colleagues, the late John W. Vanderhoff and Fortunato J. Micale, professors emeritus of chemistry at Lehigh.

In his work with miniemulsions, El-Aasser has invented novel ways of preparing hybrid latexes, enabling the production of latexes from natural polymers and bi-polymers and the encapsulation of inorganic pigments and dyes into polymer particles. The key to this technology was El-Aasser’s use of a conventional surfactant and a co-surfactant.

In another endeavor, El-Aasser used preformed polymers to control droplet size and increase reaction rates—one of many methods he has created to make miniemulsion polymerization practical for the manufacture of coatings.

El-Aasser has served as major adviser to 63 Ph.D. students and 53 M.S. candidates and as co-adviser to 20 Ph.D. students. His former students now hold positions with universities and industries in the U.S. and around the world.

Under El-Aasser’s direction, Lehigh’s EPI has attained international pre-eminence. EPI’s annual short courses, which El-Aasser organized, have been offered for 30 years at Lehigh and also in Davos, Switzerland, attracting more than 4,000 industrial scientists and engineers.

El-Aasser earned his B.S. and M.S. from the University of Alexandria in Egypt and his Ph.D. from McGill University in Montreal. He served as a post-doctoral fellow two years before joining Lehigh’s faculty in 1974. In 1983-84, he worked at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique in France.

El-Aasser’s other awards include Lehigh’s Hillman Award for extraordinary service; the university’s Libsch Award for outstanding research; the O. Hugo Schuck Best Paper Award from the American Automatic Control Council; and the 1999 Lehigh Chemical Engineering Senior Class Award.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Monday, December 18, 2006

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