The Swedish Connection

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Brad Chmelka, professor in the Chemical Engineering Department at the UCSB College of Engineering, has been elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering (IVA, in Swedish), which was founded in 1919 as the world’s first engineering academy. Its mission is “to promote the engineering and economic sciences and the advancement of business and industry for the benefit of society,” in Sweden and internationally. The IVA has approximately an equal number of members from academia and industry, of which some forty are from the U.S. Professor Chmelka is the only current member from a UC campus.

The award extends Chmelka’s already-substantial Swedish ties. In 2013 he received an honorary doctoral degree from Chalmers University of Technology in Göteborg, where his research collaborations have led to regular research exchanges among UCSB and Chalmers students and faculty. Since 2012, Chmelka has served on the Scientific Advisory Board of AkzoNobel’s Performance Chemicals Division, and in 2015 he was elected as a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

“I’m very pleased about this news, particularly because it reflects positively on the impact that our atomic-level approach to engineering is having on the development and improvement of material properties for diverse energy and environmental applications,” Chmelka said while conducting sabbatical research in Europe. “I am grateful to the IVA for recognizing our research, which crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries between engineering and the sciences.

“I’m pleased, too, by this recognition of my group’s strong interactions with Sweden, which we’ve helped to extend to numerous other groups in UCSB’s College of Engineering through scientific workshops and research collaborations. Our scientific partnerships with Swedish universities and industry will undoubtedly broaden further through new opportunities opened by this link to the IVA.”

Chmelka and his research group work at the boundaries of chemical engineering, materials science, physical chemistry, and applied physics, with the goal of understanding, at an atomic-level, the properties of complicated engineering materials and processes to improve them. Such materials include heterogeneous catalysts for hydrocarbon conversion, chemical production, and automotive pollution reduction; structural materials for high-performance cements that have low carbon footprints; and new mesostructured materials for fuel cells, solar cells, and semiconductor devices.

“I’m very pleased that Brad Chmelka has been recognized as a Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering, and by what it says about not only the importance of his research, but beyond that, the impact of his ability and willingness to work across disciplines and create expanding networks of collaborators, all to advance novel solutions at the interface of science and engineering,” said Dean Rod Alferness. “It perfectly reflects our highest aspirations at the College of Engineering.”

Chmelka's work exploits experimental advances in the fundamental chemical and physical sciences to address important engineering challenges and provide opportunities for industry and society. Using state-of-the-art nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy techniques, Chmelka and his lab team measure the atomic-level compositions, structures, and surface interactions of such technologically important materials and correlate them with their chemical reactions, mechanical strength, ion-conduction, and optical or photovoltaic properties. Over half of his research is funded by industry.

Chmelka joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at UCSB in 1992, became full professor in 1999, and was named a distinguished professor in 2016. He has received the 2016 Braskem Award from the Materials Science and Engineering Division of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, as well as a David and Lucile Packard Foundation Award, a Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Award.

Since 2015, Chmelka has served as co-director of the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies, a federally supported, university-affiliated research center involving research groups at UCSB, MIT, and Caltech. He has authored over 160 technical publications and holds 10 issued patents.

Dr. Chmelka received his PhD in chemical engineering from UC Berkeley in 1990, and his Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Arizona State University. He conducted postdoctoral research in the Department of Chemistry at UC Berkeley and at the Max-Planck-Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, prior to joining the faculty at UCSB.

Professor Brad Chmelka, Foreign Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering