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Spotlight: NJIT Membrane Technologies Expert Wins 2009 Board of Overseers Research Prize and Medal

The NJIT Board of Overseers and NJIT President Robert A. Altenkirch will present to internationally acclaimed membrane separation technologies expert Kamalesh K. Sirkar the second NJIT Excellence in Research Prize and Medal on October 7, 2009. The awards are presented in recognition of a sustained record of contributions that have enhanced NJIT’s reputation.

“The award’s purpose is to elevate the image of research on campus and in the community,” said Emil C. Herkert, chair of the NJIT Board of Overseers. “Many professors at NJIT do notable work and we thought it long overdue that the research of these unique individuals be celebrated on the campus and in the region.” The NJIT Board of Overseers serves as the governing body for the NJIT Foundation and provides a key advisory link with a wide range of organizations in the business community.

Sirkar will be honored for his pioneering research in membrane separation processes. These processes play a critical and greater role today in several areas of national interest including health care and the production of drinking water.

In industrial applications, membrane processes are gaining favor due to their low energy consumption. The manufacture of modules that efficiently pack the membrane into a small volume remains largely an art that has been developed over the past three decades. Sirkar has played an important role in moving ahead this technology.

Following the presentation, Sirkar will speak about his work. As director of the NJIT Center for Membrane Technologies, his research in membrane separation technologies has had such a notable impact upon the scientific world and society at large that in 2008, Sirkar was named a Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also received last fall the Clarence G. Gerhold Award from the separations division of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). The Gerhold Award recognized his extensive contributions to chemical separation technology. In honor of the award, two special sessions sponsored by AIChE were held. The sessions gave colleagues from around the world the chance to present lectures about their own work which Sirkar had influenced.

Similar special sessions will be repeated at NJIT on the day of the award. Membrane technology and environmental applications will be the topic of a talk by D. Bhattacharyya, university alumni professor in the department of chemical and materials engineering at the University of Kentucky. G. Glenn Lipscomb, professor of chemical and environmental engineering at the University of Toledo will discuss the evolving art of membrane module design. New opportunities and challenges of membrane processes will be the focus of a talk by Arup K. SenGupta, P.C., Rossin Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Chemical Engineering at Lehigh University. The future of membranes and their separation processes will be discussed by S. Ranil Wickramasinghe, a professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering at the School of Biomedical Engineering, Colorado State University.

Sirkar, who is also the foundation professor in membrane separations at NJIT, is best known among colleagues as the inventor of the commercialized membrane-based solvent extraction technology. The former Hoechst Celanese, Inc. received honorable mention in the Kirkpatrick Award for this work in 1991.

Sirkar usually works with miniscule membranes, whose openings are often smaller in size than nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. “The basic principles of membrane separation have been known for a long time,” said Sirkar. “Intestines in animals and humans are semi-permeable membranes. Early experiments to study the process of separation were performed by chemists using samples of animal membranes.” 

Contact: Sheryl Weinstein, public relations director, NJIT (973-596-3436)