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Prof. John Chen: Energizing ChemE

John Chen

In many ways, Professor John Chen of Lehigh’s Chemical Engineering department embodies the harmony of research and teaching that sets Lehigh’s engineering faculty apart from its peers.

Chen, who has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in chemical engineering and mechanical engineering throughout his more than three decades at Lehigh, has over the course of his career here received the university’s Hillman Award for excellence in teaching, scholarship and service, and its Libsch Award for distinction in research.

A respected scholar who has published more than 200 technical articles and won 16 major national or international research awards, Chen has also served as dean of the College of Engineering (1999-2001) and chair of the Chemical Engineering department (1983-1989).

But Dr. Chen’s service to his profession doesn’t remain within South Bethlehem. He is a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a member of the American Chemical Society, a member of the American Association for Advancement of Science, and a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). In fact, at the November 2005 AIChE annual conference in Cincinatti, Ohio, Dr. Chen formally accepted his year-long role as president of AIChE – a professional organization with some 40,000 members dedicated to the advancement of chemical engineering.

In taking on his new role as president of the group, Professor Chen is focused upon “energizing” the chemical engineering profession. During his address at the conference, Dr. Chen laid out his plans for supporting AIChE’s mission of advancing the profession of chemical engineering. And Dr. Chen has very definite ideas about where he’d like to lead the organization over the coming year.

“It could be called the greatest challenge of modern civilization -- the supply, production, utilization, and conservation of energy,” says Dr. Chen. “To respond, there must be an emphasis on science and engineering research and education the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the days of Sputnik. Arguably, there is no other socio-techno challenge that impacts the well being of nations and humanity so directly, and toward which chemical engineers are so well suited to provide essential contributions.”

Under Chen’s leadership, AIChE will be increasing its focus on this consuming issue. “Having recently and successfully enhanced AIChE’s activities in nanotechnology, sustainability, and biological science,” he says, “we now look for the next major arena for chemical engineering and science activities. Our profession, and the AIChE, must be proactive and seek to be positive contributors to the necessary solutions.”

According to Chen, the energy initiative truly exemplifies the triple mission of AIChE to promote the professional well being of chemical engineers, the advancement of the profession itself, and the service of the profession to society. “My hope is that AIChE will be a significant participant and contributor in the milieu of energy challenges,” he says.

Dr. Chen says that contributors to the future of chemical engineering won’t necessarily hail from the United States. “AIChE is widely regarded as the premier society for chemical engineers anywhere in the world, but to date the membership is nearly 90% American. This stands to reason, given the history of the organization itself, and the fact that many countries have national professional societies.

“But the industry is now global,” he continues,” and thus our organization must respond – the industry faces global issues, and thus as a professional society AIChE must keep current with its industrial stakeholders. And from the perspective of our members, AIChE is in business to help them leverage their credentials anywhere in the world.”

Dr. Chen says that while his focus as a member of AIChE is in advancing the profession of chemical engineering, he is delighted that his position in the organization reflects favorably upon Lehigh. “AIChE’s centennial celebration is coming up in 2008,’ Chen notes, “but Lehigh celebrated its own ChemE department’s centennial in 2003. Lehigh has been integral to the development of chemical engineering since the very early days of the industry -- even before there was an AIChE!

“The key to our department's success has always been our recognition that the future of chemical engineering involves collaboration with other realms of science as well as the business world,” he continues. “As I move forward with my plans for AIChE in the coming year, this guiding tenet of our department here will certainly guide my approach to leading the Institute.”

For more on chemical engineering at Lehigh, check out the ChemE Web site. For more on the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, browse to the AIChE Web site AIChE Web site.

Posted on Tuesday, January 31, 2006

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