Chemical engineering department gains double with new faculty couple

July 27, 2004
| By: Aubrey Bloom

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- It's more than a chemical bond for a husband-and-wife pair in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University. Dr. Perla Balbuena and Dr. Jorge Seminario are two of the more than 100 new faculty members Texas A&M Engineering is hiring over the next five years under the university's faculty reinvestment program. Hired in May, the newly appointed tenured professors come with research interests in new power sources and the exciting field of nanotechnology. Dr. Kenneth R. Hall, head of the chemical engineering department, said the department welcomed the new professors with excitement. "I am delighted that we have been able to attract these outstanding researchers. They are part of an overall effort to make our department the leader in computational chemical engineering," Hall said. Balbuena's research focuses on the prediction of physical and chemical properties of materials using atomic-level simulations. She has contributed to an improved design of power sources such as lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells, and to the development of new materials for catalytic processes. Balbuena's work with lithium-ion batteries, used in laptop computers and cell phones, involves introducing components that are less toxic and work more efficiently than those currently used. Her work with fuel cells, called the power source of the future, involves studying how reactions take place on the surface of the catalytic particles to improve the cells' efficiency and cost. Seminario's research focuses on nanotechnology, working on the analysis, design and simulation of systems and materials of nanometer dimensions, especially those for the development of molecular electronics. The goal is to design smaller electronic devices and other materials in order to increase their efficiency, speed and energy savings, as well as reduce their costs. Seminario also holds a joint appointment in the Department of Electrical Engineering. While Balbuena and Seminario have separate research interests, they take the time to discuss science every day and often work together. The couple is currently collaborating on a four-year, $540,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to investigate the development of catalysts for fuel cells and alternative methods to expensive and exhaustible platinum cells. Balbuena and Seminario, who met at a scientific conference in Turkey 11 years ago and have been married seven years, recently moved from the University of South Carolina, where they were associate professors. Balbuena and Seminario said they were first drawn to Texas A&M by the high quality of teaching and research, as well as an environment that can bring fresh views to their research. They were also excited about the new Jack E. Brown Chemical Engineering Building, which is expected to be completed this month. "We are definitely looking forward to expanding our research towards exciting new frontiers; such expansion will be facilitated by the current and planned infrastructure and by the vision of Texas A&M. In addition, we look forward to enjoying the beautiful new chemical engineering building, and we are eager to learn about the Aggie traditions and Texas lore," Balbuena said. Balbuena holds a bachelor's degree from the Universidad Tecnologica Nacional in Argentina, a master's degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, all in chemical engineering. She will be teaching applications of thermodynamics to chemical engineering starting this fall. Seminario holds a bachelor's degree in electrical sciences from the Universidad National de Ingenieria in Peru, and master's in physics and Ph.D. in molecular science from Southern Illinois University. He was licensed in electronics engineering by the National Board of Engineers of Peru in 1980 and will be teaching process control this fall.

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