Somenath Mitra, a groundbreaking researcher in the fields of environmental monitoring, water treatment and nanotechnology, was tapped for the 2017 Benedetti Pichler Award from the American Microchemical Society.
Named for the Vienna-born scholar viewed as the father of American microchemistry, the award recognizes "outstanding research in the field of microchemistry in its broadest sense," including administration and teaching, among other vehicles for advancing the field.
Mitra, a distinguished professor of chemistry and environmental science, has won global prominence for his work in several areas, including trace measurements in waste streams and diverse nanotechnology applications ranging from gas chromatography columns to flexible batteries, to sea water desalination. His work in real-time trace measurement plays a central role in environmental monitoring. He has, for example, developed a variety of air monitoring techniques for parts-per-billion-level measurements in ambient air and industrial stacks.
Over the past 15 years, Mitra's research on carbon nanotubes has led to the creation of a novel architecture for the membrane distillation process by immobilizing carbon nanotubes, which are an atom thick and about 10,000 times smaller than a human hair in diameter, in the membrane pores. Mitra's distillation process runs on energy-efficient fuels such as waste heat, an industrial by-product, and solar energy.
"One of the key characteristics of carbon nanotubes is their capacity to both rapidly absorb water vapor as well as industrial contaminants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and then easily release them," he notes.
His work on carbon nanotubes has wide-ranging applications in many other areas, such as polymer composites, thin films and nanoelectronics. He developed, for example, flexible, bendable batteries using carbon nanotube composites which can be painted on flexible substrates with an inkjet or screen printer. Through nanotube technology, he has also advanced the development of devices for use in the continuous real-time monitoring of pollutants.
To date, Mitra has been issued 11 patents – five of them related to his carbon nanotube work.
In 2014, he and Zafar Iqbal, a research professor of chemistry and environmental science, won an Edison Patent Award for their technique for preparing carbon nanotubes for use in a variety of practical applications, from water purification to fuel cells. The next year, he was issued a new patent for a carbon nanotube immobilized membrane (CNIM) for desalination applications.
"It is quite fascinating that our understanding materials and processes at micro and nano scale is becoming key to the solutions of mega problems such as harnessing water and energy," says Mitra, who received the award at the Eastern Analytical Symposium and Exposition in Princeton last month.
In 2015, he was inducted into the National Academy of Inventors.
One of the nation's leading public technological universities, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is a top-tier research university that prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT's multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. With an enrollment of 11,400 graduate and undergraduate students, NJIT offers small-campus intimacy with the resources of a major public research university. NJIT is a global leader in such fields as solar research, nanotechnology, resilient design, tissue engineering, and cybersecurity, in addition to others. NJIT is among the top U.S. polytechnic public universities in research expenditures, exceeding $130 million, and is among the top 1 percent of public colleges and universities in return on educational investment, according to PayScale.com. NJIT has a $1.74 billion annual economic impact on the State of New Jersey.