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CoE fortifies educational and research leadership through new faculty members

Two new faculty members have joined the MU College of Engineering, strengthening the college’s education force while fortifying its foundations for groundbreaking research.

Zhiqiang Hu, a wastewater treatment expert, started work last August as an assistant professor in the CoE’s civil and environmental engineering department. Nam–Jung Kim, a nanotechnology researcher, became the CoE mechanical and aerospace engineering department’s newest research assistant professor in September.

“These new faculty members enrich our education programs while bolstering our key research centers,” said Noah Manring, a mechanical engineering professor and the CoE’s associate dean for research. “As a top Missouri university, it’s our obligation to provide leadership in both areas.”

Engineering leaders are pursuing an aggressive agenda to double the college’s research expenditures, now at nearly $12 million annually. That increase would bring the CoE into line with its Association of American Universities peers, Manring said—while paving the way for technological innovations designed to benefit society and the economy as a whole.

Both Hu and Kim are working on projects with great potential to affect everyday activities.

Zhiqiang Hu: Seeking to harvest energy from bacterial waste

Though a relative newcomer to academia, Hu came to Mizzou with substantive research credentials in hand.

Hu served as an assistant professor in Southern Illinois University’s civil and environmental engineering department, and worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University in New York and the University of Connecticut after receiving his doctorate at UConn in 2002. While garnering that experience and working at Zhejiang University in China, Hu researched innovative ways to treat and make use of microorganisms.

“He already has demonstrated success in research, even though he’s very new,” said Mark Virkler, professor and chair of the civil and environmental engineering department.

Hu plans to use his microbial expertise to help Missouri meet federal water standards. He is working to develop a more efficient way to remove nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater.

He also hopes to recycle these microorganisms into energy. Currently, microbes used to clean wastewater are ultimately either burned or placed in a landfill, but they could be a source of electricity and renewable energy, Hu said.

“We could significantly reduce one of the major costs related to wastewater treatment by using the bacteria that way,” he said.

Virkler is confident that Hu’s work on this and other environmental engineering challenges will bear fruit.

“Hu is going to become very, very well known for his research,” Virkler said.

Nam–Jung Kim: Pursuing the next generation of information technology

Kim hopes to expand the frontiers of nanotechnology to harness the information–carrying capabilities of light.

Kim worked for about two years as a physics faculty member at Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea after serving as a postdoctoral research associate at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. He received his doctoral degree in 2001 from the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

At the University of Missouri, Kim is focusing on nanoporous materials, or miniature bits of material characterized by sponge–like pores. Nanoporous materials typically are used for sensors, filters or molecular reactors, he said.

Kim is working to develop a light–emitting device based on nanoporous materials. From there, a small and efficient laser can be developed that eventually might replace wires as a means of transmitting information, he said.

Kim believes nanoporous materials may provide the inexpensive way industry is seeking to produce light waves that could carry information—in medical optical sensors as well as for other purposes.

“This doesn’t produce a lot of heat or use a lot of energy. It’s very efficient,” Kim said of nanoporous–based materials. “It’s a pretty exciting project.”

Kim’s work is one aspect of the CoE’s commitment to nanotechnology exploration, said Manring, the CoE associate dean for research. CoE leaders have designated the nanotechnology research program a “college center” earmarked for increased support over the next several years.