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Andrea Frank
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Bernherdt L. Trout
Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering Director of the Molecular Engineering Laboratory

What are you working on?

Right now, my major focus is biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. Originally, my work and interest in environmental catalysis and developing new ways of reducing pollutants were the main reasons I came to MIT. Unfortunately, it ended up being diffi cult to get funding for that. That was 1998. But I had a natural inclination toward pharmaceuticals. In a sense, the environmental work has a degree of negativity inherent to it, because you’re preventing things from happening. In the human health fi eld, you are helping people. I’ve also worked extensively on automotive catalysis. As we know, CO2 is a major greenhouse gas. We in carbon management are working to prevent CO2 emission. Since my arrival at MIT, I’ve been working on materials called clathrate hydrates, which trap gases ––such as CO 2 or natural gas ––or other components that are potential energy sources. This process also has the potential to sequester and separate CO2 and other gases.

Can you be more specific?

My research, in the broad sense, is called molecular engineering. I try to understand materials, compounds, and processes at the molecular level. In so doing, we use fundamental theoretical approaches such as statistical mechanics and quantum mechanics. We call these ab initio, or fi rst principles, methods. They are necessary for an understanding of molecules and how molecules add up to make an incredibly complex
and diverse variety of systems. We start from that point ––the microscopic level ––and then we work up to questions such as the effect of CO2 in the oceans or the presence of clathrate hydrates in the permafrost seabed. We investigate how we can use our knowledge of the very basic properties to help us move toward a more comprehensive global understanding.

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for full text see VISIONS - MIT Interviews book

Andrea Frank