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Nature-Inspired Chemical Engineering: Course Development in an Emerging Research Area

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Chemical Engineering Courses in Emergent Areas

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Daniel Lepek The Cooper Union

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Dr. Daniel Lepek is an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. He received his Ph.D. from New Jersey Institute of Technology and B.E. from The Cooper Union, both in chemical engineering. In 2011, he received the ASEE Chemical Engineering Division ”Engineering Education” Mentoring Grant and in 2015, he received the ASEE Chemical Engineering Division's Ray W. Fahien Award. In 2016, Dr. Lepek was a Fulbright scholar at Graz University of Technology (Austria) studying and teaching engineering education, particle technology, and pharmaceutical engineering. His research interests include particle technology, transport phenomena, and engineering education. His current educational research is focused on peer instruction, technology-enhanced active learning, and electronic textbooks.

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Marc-Olivier Coppens University College London (UCL)

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Marc-Olivier COPPENS, FIChemE, is Ramsay Memorial Chair and Head of Department of Chemical Engineering at UCL, since 2012, after academic posts at Rensselaer (USA) and TU Delft (Netherlands). He is Director of UCL’s Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering, which was awarded a £5M EPSRC “Frontier Engineering” Award in 2013. Coppens won several international awards for pioneering work on nature-inspired chemical engineering.
In 2014, he became a Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE). In 2015, he was also appointed as the first International Director of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Catalysis and Reaction Engineering (CRE) Division, and is active on AIChE’s International Committee and for the Particle Technology Forum (PTF).
A passionate educator, he won the Rensselaer School of Engineering Innovation in Teaching Award in 2012. Other awards include Young Chemist and PIONIER Awards from the Dutch National Science Foundation (NWO), an RSC Catalysis Science and Technology Lecture Award (Zürich, 2012) and several invited named lectureships, including the Somer Lectures at METU (Ankara, 2014), and visiting professorships (Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, Beijing University of Chemical Technology; East China University of Science and Technology). He has published over 100 peer-reviewed journal publications to date, and presented more than 50 keynote and plenary lectures at international conferences.
He is one of the Editors in Chief of Chemical Engineering & Processing: Process Intensification, and serves on the Advisory or Editorial Boards of Chemical Engineering Science, Powder Technology and KONA, amongst other journals. He consults for various companies, and is or has been advisor to the Chemical Engineering Departments of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), Universidad de los Andes in Colombia, and ETH Zürich.

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In 2013, University College London was awarded an EPSRC (United Kingdom’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) “Frontier Engineering” Grant to form a multi-disciplinary Centre for Nature Inspired Engineering. The overarching vision of the center is to use nature as a guiding platform to seek potentially transformative solutions to engineering grand challenges, such as sustainable energy and clean water. Beyond biomimicry, this nature-inspired approach seeks to reveal fundamental mechanisms in the natural world that underlie desirable properties such as scalability, efficiency or robustness, and can be applied in a broader context to solve similar problems in engineering.

To complement the new research center, a new senior undergraduate and Master’s level elective course on Nature Inspired Chemical Engineering was designed, developed, and taught by Professor Marc-Olivier Coppens of University College London and Professor Daniel Lepek of The Cooper Union. One of the main learning objectives of the course was to stimulate creative thought in leveraging natural phenomena to solve chemical engineering problems. This was achieved by using a variety of active learning and pedagogical techniques such as, annotated textbook readings of current journal publications, oral presentations highlighting the balance between nature and technology, laboratory demonstrations, and a semester-long group project motivated by student interest in nature and chemical engineering.

In this paper, the opportunities and challenges associated with developing a new course in an emerging multidisciplinary research area will be addressed. In addition, suggestions for best practices in course development will be provided for instructors who seek to develop similar new research-based elective courses.

Lepek, D., & Coppens, M. (2016, June), Nature-Inspired Chemical Engineering: Course Development in an Emerging Research Area Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25778

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