CISTAR News - October 2019

2019 CISTAR Biannual Meeting Recap

Annual Report Preparations 

Pillar Updates

Research News



2019 CISTAR Biannual Meeting Recap

CISTAR Team at 2019 Biannual Meeting

The 2019 CISTAR Biannual Meeting took place on September 4-6, 2019 at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. The focus of the fall biannual meeting is technical progress while enabling team members from all partner universities and industry representatives to interact in person.


Technical Research Review

Project Leaders provided an in-depth look to research projects of the four research thrusts. Industry and Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) members discussed their suggestions for improvement and advice on paths forward. Bruce Cook, Industrial Consultant, provided an overview of the stage gate review process that CISTAR will use to review projects and introduced CISTAR’s benchmarking process to promote center alignment and provide a clear assessment of research progress.

Workforce Development, Diversity & Inclusion Teams

The Workforce Development (WFD) and Diversity and Inclusion teams discussed future plans and the upcoming recruiting season with members of the WFD Advisory Board.. They also reviewed the feedback received from the NSF site visit and discussed ways to addressed it. The biannual meeting was a great opportunity for some new WFD members to meet  everyone in person and hit the ground running in their new roles.

CISTAR Fellows Professional Development

Denise Driscoll presents to CISTAR students

Denise Driscoll, CISTAR’s Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) director, led a workshop with tips on Communicating with Executive Presence that emphasized how critical both emotional and cultural intelligence are for presenting effectively. Fellows then practiced their 90-second pitch and received feedback from their peers. Their final pitches were recorded and then uploaded and critiqued by them on GoReact, a state of the art instructional technology tool that allows comments to be added directly at the point on the video where the comments are needed.  Both the Director of D&I and the Assistant Director of Education also critiqued the pitches and then met with Fellows to devise a plan to improve their communication skills, which will be added to their Individual Development Plans. 

The Student Leadership Council (SLC) and CISTAR’s Director of D&I collaborated on another professional development experience for Fellows: an hour-long discussion with Edith Flanigen, an accomplished chemist with over 50 years at Union Carbide and UOP and an authority on zeolite chemistry and materials. She talked to them about her career as a chemist and the experiences that helped make her successful. Alec Bridge, SLC chair, reported that it was a positive experience for the Fellows as Edith Flanigen provided insight on multiple topics, such as managing teams, learning technical material, and being a female chemical engineer at that time.

CISTAR Perfect Poster Pitch Winners

Thirty-four Graduate Fellows presented the highlights of their research poster in 90 seconds or less to faculty and industrial members as part of the Poster Perfect Pitch competition. These competitions are one of the ways that Engineering Research Centers give students real-world experience interacting with industry members and improve their communication skills. Based on voting from over 30 industry representatives and over 30 faculty members, CISTAR presented awards and monetary prizes to the following students:

·  First place: Jessica Muhlenkamp, University of Notre Dame, advised by Jason Hicks

·  Second place: Grant Marsden, Northwestern University, advised by Linda Broadbelt

·  Third place: Elsa Koninckx, Northwestern University, advised by Linda Broadbelt

The entire CISTAR team will meet again for the Year 3 Annual Meeting and NSF Site Visit, March 30 – April 3, 2020 at Purdue University.

Annual Report Preparations

The CISTAR Annual Report Task Force is preparing for the Year Two Annual Report. The report is due on February 27, 2020 and will be used as part of the annual site visit process.

According to the instructions from NSF, “the function of the Annual Report is to communicate the ERC’s vision, plans, activities, achievements and potential impacts in all aspects of Center operations. […] The Annual Report is an opportunity for each Center to present a unified picture of the strategic scope of the research, engineering workforce development, innovation ecosystem, and culture of inclusion and diversity programs; details about individual research projects and how they fit into the Center’s vision, progress the ERC is making and milestones achieved. The Annual Report also contains plans for the next year.”

The proposed deadlines for the components of the report will be communicated regularly via e-mail and through the leadership team meetings. As a reminder, the period for the year 2 report is December 1, 2018 to September 30, 2019. For questions, please contact Cristina Farmus or Brittany Bright


Pillar Updates

Workforce Development

New Staff

Workforce Development and Diversity & Inclusion Teams at 2019 Biannual Meeting

CISTAR welcomes Allison Godwin, Ph.D, and Assistant Professor, Engineering Education at Purdue University to the role of Workforce Development Co-Director. Godwin’s research interest in the area of engineering education and diversity is a great asset to the WFD team. Her research “focuses what factors influence diverse students to choose engineering and stay in engineering through their careers and how different experiences within the practice and culture of engineering foster or hinder belongingness and identity development.” Godwin said she is looking forward to continuing the programs that were established in the first two years and leveraging the longitudinal nature of CISTAR to conduct educational research on pathways into and through engineering, especially in the hydrocarbon industry.

“I’m also looking forward to completing the Delphi study currently in development. This effort will establish consensus from higher education and industry professionals on a set of skills and competencies that graduates (both undergraduate and graduate) need in the hydrocarbon industry. We will use the results of this study to align our programs and evaluation of them with these skills and competencies,” Godwin said.

In addition to Godwin, the team also welcomed Abbey Stanizone as Site Education Liaison for the University of Texas at Austin. Stanizone received her Masters of Education degree from University of Virginia. While at the University of Virgina, Stanizone worked in their School of Engineering to help plan, coordinate, and execute a variety of programs and activities in recruiting, advising, and educational support services for the university’s undergraduate engineering programs. Stanizone will be working with CISTAR and the Center for Dynamics and Control of Materials, an NSF MRSEC at UTA.

Summer Programs Recap

CISTAR Graduate Fellows made a significant impact this summer by guiding three groups of research participants:Research Experience for Teachers (RET) for 11 high school teachers  at Purdue, a Research Experience for 10 Undergraduates (REU) at Purdue, and a Young Scholars program for 13 high school students at all five CISTAR campuses . In addition to the research activities, the groups participated in professional development sessions, field trips and outreach events. Feedback from the participants was overwhelmingly positive.   

One REU student reports, “I was able to be a part of such an amazing research group, led by a phenomenal advisor. I was so grateful to be a part of the team and my grad mentor was the best. That experience really made me want to do research and to come back and work in that lab.” A teacher who was part of the RET program said, “This was the most useful professional development that I have had since beginning my teaching career.” In the summer of 2020, the RET program will move to the University of Texas at Austin. A proposal has been submitted to NSF to support more REU students at all five campuses over the next three summers.

UNM: CISTAR Young Scholar Paulina Naydenkov PU: RET & REU students work together in the lab doing research

Top: At UNM: Participants in summer camps made biodiesel based on the science fair project of a CISTAR Young Scholar, Paulina Naydenkov (in striped shirt above).   Bottom: At PU: RET & REU students work together in the lab. 


UND- Young Scholar Abigail Donaldson helping a participant learn about separations.2018 CISTAR Young Scholar Cecilia Pareja is now a CISTAR Fellow and UNM Undergraduate in the Datye lab

Top: UND: One of the enrichment activities provided for the YS was an opportunity to participate in an outreach program. Young Scholar Abigail Donaldson helped a participant learn about separations.

Bottom: UNM: 2018 CISTAR Young Scholar Cecilia Pareja is now a CISTAR Fellow and UNM Undergraduate in the Datye lab. 


PU- RET and REU students visit Argonne National LaboratoryNotre Dame's TRiO students getting a tour of the Hicks lab

Top: PU: RET and REU students visited Argonne National Laboratory in June 2019.

Bottom: UND: A group of Notre Dame's TRiO students toured Professor Hicks lab. Participants talked to CISTAR graduate students about what it was like to work in a lab and learned some of the chemistry and computational science involved in CISTAR research. TRiO is a US Department of Education program that provides outreach and student services designed to ensure equal educational opportunities for all Americans. 

Student Leadership Council Update

CISTAR Fellows at 2019 Biannual Meeting

The Student Leadership Council (SLC) is planning upcoming Brown Bag seminars with a focus on research, career development, and diversity/inclusion. After the recent fall meeting at NU, they are discussing with leadership more hands-on student-student interactions for future CISTAR meetings. These may include lab tours with role-reversal demonstrations/experiments, local outreach activities, and informal meetings between students working in Thrust 4 and students working in the other three research thrusts that have similar research focus. They are also working with CISTAR Industry & Innovations Director Peter Keeling to organize CISTAR's first round of interns for summer 2020. (Left: CISTAR Fellows at the 2019 Biannual Meeting)




Culture of Inclusion

With help from numerous CISTAR faculty, staff, and students, CISTAR continues efforts to broaden participation. At the University of New Mexico, Elsa Castillo, the Co-Director of D&I, reported a number of well-attended recruitment and outreach events, ranging from summer programs, high school visits, fairs, and engineering open houses. In collaboration with WFD, Elsa Castillo and Denise Driscoll are working on a system to better record, the ongoing efforts of each of the CISTAR partners. Each CISTAR member is invited to consider how they can play more of a role in the CISTAR recruitment and outreach efforts; if interested, schedule a meeting with Elsa or Denise!

Celebrating CISTAR’s Faculty, Staff, and Graduate Fellows who are First-Generation College

On Friday, November 8, 2019, which was First-Generation College Celebration Day, we emailed CISTAR faculty, staff, and students to see who was first-generation college (i.e., neither of your parents/guardians completed a 4-year college or university degree before you went to college).   In this first report back, we share who replied “yes” to being first-generation college, their role in CISTAR (faculty, staff, or graduate fellow), as well as where (and when) they received their first college degree.

CISTAR Faculty

  • Jeffrey Brinker, First college degree: Rutgers University, 1972
  • Michael T. Harris, First college degree:  Mississippi State University, 1981
  • Tobin J. Marks, First college degree:  University of Maryland, 1966
  • William F. Schneider,First college degree:  University of Michigan-Dearborn, 1986


  • Brittany Bright, First college degree:  Ball State University, 2008
  • Cristina Farmus, First college degree:  Transilvania University, 2001
  • Ginger E. Sigmon, First college degree:  North Carolina State University, 2005

CISTAR Graduate Fellows

  • Sopuruchukwu Ezenwa, First college degree:  Tufts University, 2018
  • Peter Oladipupo, First college degree:  University of Lagos, Nigeria, 2011
  • Edwin Rodriguez, First college degree:  National University of Colombia, 2018
  • Alkiviadis Skouteris, First college degree:  National Technical University of Athens, 2018

In our second report back, we will feature a short article and some video clips from interviews with three individuals from CISTAR—one faculty, one staff, and one graduate fellow—who were willing to talk about their experiences when they were a first-generation college student.   Please be sure to check it out in our spring CISTAR newsletter!

Thanks to all who replied to our email!

How can you help CISTAR be more inclusive? 

CISTAR faculty, staff, and students will soon be asked to take two steps:

(1) Regularly use a diversity and inclusion calendar as part of best practices.  An invitation will be sent via email from to download CISTAR’s diversity and inclusion calendar for use in Outlook. The calendar is designed to make it easy to respect the religious, cultural, and civic observances that are important to consider as you schedule events. If you use Outlook, please download this calendar!  If you use CISTAR’s google calendar, these dates will be loaded soon on your behalf.

(2) Participate in surveys assessing inclusiveness.  An invitation will be sent via email from Institutional Data Analytics + Assessment with a link to complete CISTAR’s climate of inclusion survey. The survey should take no more than five minutes to complete, and it will help us meet the NSF responsibility to routinely assess CISTAR’s inclusivity.  

Innovation Ecosystem

CISTAR Industrial Consortium MembersWe are continuing to see growth in prospective new members that are considering joining CISTAR. It is noteworthy that companies that attend our annual meetings as invited guests almost always become members of the Center. The membership process can be delayed a little as it requires some internal effort aligned with annual budget cycles. CISTAR currently has 24 members and we expect to see this continue to increase in the future.

An often-asked question is what do I get out of joining an NSF Engineering Research Center and the answer at its simplest is just “privileged access to cutting-edge federally-funded research”. However, in reality there are multiple dimensions and value propositions that emerge from engaging with an Engineering Research Center. These opportunities include, for example:


  • Technology Innovations: Engineering Research Centers have a significant core budget from NSF that supports most of the varied research efforts of the center during the 10-year funding window.
  • Knowhow and Insights: Access a powerhouse of technological insights and engineering knowhow with deep roots in engineering and academic research.
  • Annual Meetings: Two 2-day Annual Meetings in the Spring and Fall create an opportunity to highlight progress as well as network with Faculty, Students and Members.
  • Annual Reports: Each year one annual report is produced during the Spring along with a supplement document in the fall. These are Paper and Electronic copies and available via Intranet .
  • Information Webinars: Throughout the year we have WebEx webinars (~6 per year) from students and faculty that are designed to show technology highlights for Faculty, Students and Members.
  • Student Interactions: Mentoring, Internships, Recruitment and interactions between Students, Members and Faculty are created through multiple connections throughout the year.
  • Invention Disclosures: All members receive notifications of Intellectual Property being generated from the core research ongoing in the Center.
  • Licensing Opportunity: Gold Members have a first option to explore intellectual property emerging from the Center. Silver and Gold members have a research license.
  • Faculty Relationships: Build lasting relationships through professional interactions with faculty, students and other industry specialists in the field.
  • Intellectual Property: CISTAR currently has 4 filed invention disclosures with more being developed and explored with the respective University IP Offices. All members have a research-only license, whilst Gold members have a first option to explore a license to such IP.
  • Sponsored Projects: All members have an ability to identify an area of special interest to them and consider sponsored research.
  • Industry Advisory Board: Take part in the direction and growth of the Center through the Industry Advisory Board (IAB) that advises CISTAR on strategic targets.

CISTAR has partnered with ADI and plans to attend the ADI Forum on January 15 at CityCentre in Houston. So if you're wondering what 2020 will look like for oil and gas, power, and petrochemicals, you will find us at ADI's annual oil & gas conference. See ADI’s latest mailer on the ADI Forum and join us!

Research News

Thrust 1: CISTAR Novel Metal Phosphide Catalysts - Nicole Libretto, Laryssa Cesar, Jeff Miller

Thrust One ResearchCISTAR is investigating several new alloy and metal phosphide catalysts, which will operate at the very high temperatures necessary for ethane dehydrogenation.  Traditional catalysts characterizations give average nanoparticle structures; however, catalyst performance is determined by the surface composition, which is often different from the nanoparticle’s interior.  Two recent CISTAR publications have detailed a method for using X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) and synchrotron X-ray diffraction (XRD) to identify the surface composition and alloy structure.  The method measures the fully reduced nanoparticle, and then again after surface oxidation with air at room temperature.  The latter converts surface atoms to metal oxides, while the subsurface atoms remain reduced (see figure).  The difference in the XAS spectra gives the loss of metallic surface atoms, for example.  In a study of bimetallic Pt-Cr catalysts (N.J. LiBretto, et al., Chem. Mat., 31 (5), pp 1597–1609, 2019), two catalysts had nearly identical XAS and XRD spectra, but one catalyst had a significantly lower selectivity than the other.  The surface analysis indicated that the less selective catalysts had excess surface Pt; while the more selective catalysts had a full Pt3Cr alloy surface.  In a second study of Pt-Co bimetallic catalysts (L.G. Cesar, et al., ACS Catal., 9, 5231-5244, 2019), an increasing Co loading led to an increase in the average Co:Pt ratio in the nanoparticles, but there was little effect on the catalyst performance.  The surface analysis indicated that for all compositions from Pt-rich to Co-rich nanoparticles, the surface was a Pt3Co structure.  This method is generally applicable for all nanoparticles smaller than about 5 nm and could be used to study surface enrichment, alloy segregation, and phase transformation under pretreatment, reaction, and regeneration conditions.


Thrust 2: Automated generation of reaction networks for olefin oligomerizationSergio Vernuccio and Linda Broadbelt

Figure 1: (Top) Schematic representation of physisorbed propylene and chemisorbed propoxide and propyl ion on a representative zeolite framework. (Bottom) Section of propylene oligomerization network including oligomerization/-scission of C3 ionic intermediates and isomerization of C6 ionic intermediates.The oligomerization of light olefins is an attractive route to produce chemicals and liquid fuels that can be condensed, easily transported and processed. CISTAR is targeting advanced modeling techniques to predict the product distribution of the Brønsted acid-based oligomerization process and facilitate the catalyst design efforts. The manual construction of complex kinetic mechanisms can be extremely cumbersome and error prone. For this reason, the research field of computer-assisted chemistry has had over the past decades an active role in the automated generation of reaction networks. A recent paper from Vernuccio and Broadbelt provides a critical review of the current features of the automated network generators and the reduction techniques that can be applied to control the exponential growth of the number of species and reactions. The molecular and ionic species involved in the network are represented based on chemical graph theory and converted into mathematical expressions for implementation in a generation code. In this way, the generation of a complex reaction network is achieved by applying the operators of the reaction families that are identified in the process to all the different reactants and their progeny. The use of these techniques provides an indispensable platform to discover new reaction pathways and analyze complex reaction networks, such as acid-based oligomerizations. 

Reference: Vernuccio S., Broadbelt L. J. “Discerning Complex Reaction Networks Using Automated Generators”. AIChE J. 65 (2019) 1 – 20.

Figure 1: (Top) Schematic representation of physisorbed propylene and chemisorbed propoxide and propyl ion on a representative zeolite framework. (Bottom) Section of propylene oligomerization network including oligomerization/β-scission of C3 ionic intermediates and isomerization of C6 ionic intermediates.



US Energy Information Administration (EIA): Natural gas deliveries to U.S. LNG export facilities set a record in July - Bruce Cook 

Monthly U.S. natural gas feedstock and liquefied natural gasHigh natural gas production in US, largely from fracking, is impacting not only the domestic natural gas market but also long term investment to export this resource via both pipeline and liquified natural gas (LNG).  Natural gas deliveries to U.S. facilities producing LNG for export set a monthly record in July 2019, averaging 6.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d)—7% of the total U.S. dry natural gas production—according to data from OPIS PointLogic Energy. In the first seven months of 2019, natural gas feedstock deliveries to LNG export facilities have been the fastest growing among all U.S. natural gas consumption sectors.

Natural gas delivered by pipelines to Mexico and to U.S. LNG export facilities reached 10.9 Bcf/d in July and averaged 10.0 Bcf/d in the first seven months of this year, 30% more than in the same period of 2018. The United States has been exporting more natural gas than it imports on an annual basis since 2017, and EIA expects that U.S. natural gas exports will continue to increase as new LNG facilities come online.  EIA estimates that U.S. LNG exports set new records in June and July 2019 at 4.8 Bcf/d and 5.2 Bcf/d, respectively, based on tanker loadings data from Bloomberg L.P. Natural gas feedstock deliveries to LNG export terminals averaged 5.5 Bcf/d in June and 6.0 Bcf/d in July, implying that about 15% of the natural gas feedstock sent to LNG facilities was used as fuel in the liquefaction process.

BASF develops CO2 emission-free process for climate-friendly methanol

BASF LogoThe production processes of the most important basic chemicals are responsible for around 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the chemical industry.  Typically, methanol is made from syngas, which until now has been primarily obtained from natural gas via a combination of steam and autothermal reforming. Using special catalysts, this can then be turned into crude methanol, which can be further processed after purification. In the new BASF process, the syngas is generated by partial oxidation of natural gas, which does not cause any carbon dioxide emissions and has proven to be advantageous in a study jointly conducted with Linde Engineering. The subsequent process steps - methanol synthesis and distillation - can be carried out nearly unchanged. Ingenuity was required to address the merging and processing of the waste gas streams that arise during methanol synthesis and distillation and which cannot be avoided even with optimal process management. These waste gas streams consisting of methane, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen are incinerated in an Oxyfuel process with pure oxygen. This results in a small volume of flue gas with a maximum carbon dioxide content. The flue gas is then scrubbed using BASF's proven OASE process for full recovery of the carbon dioxide. To ensure that the carbon contained in the carbon dioxide is not lost and that it can be used again for methanol synthesis, the captured carbon dioxide is fed back into the beginning of the process. This does, however, require additional hydrogen, which BASF also aims to produce without any carbon dioxide emissions, for example, via methane pyrolysis.  

REF , 24 May 2019,  (BASF, website: (in English) , REF SpecialChem Plastics and Elastomers Formulation, 24 May 2019, 

2019 CISTAR Awards

CISTAR team member awards for 2019
Name CISTAR Title Award Date
Linda Broadbelt (NU) CISTAR Thrust Two Lead, Site Lead Elected to National Academy of Engineering (NAE) February 2019
Abhaya Datye (UNM) CISTAR UNM Site Lead 2019 Robert Burwell Lectureship in Catalysis,  administered by North American Catalysis Society
March 2019
Rajamani Gounder (PU) CISTAR Thrust Two Co-Lead 2019 College of Engineering Faculty Excellence Award for Early Career Research, awarded by Purdue University Davidson School of Chemical Engineering accepted at the 17th Annual Engineering Faculty Awards of Excellence Banquet March 2019
Brandon Bukowski(PU), Now Post Doc at NU CISTAR Graduate Fellow Engineering Faculty Lectureship Seminar Award awarded by Purdue University Davidson School of Chemical Engineering May 2019
Fabio Ribeiro (PU) CISTAR Director

2019 Giuseppe Parravano Memorial Award for Excellence in Catalysis Research awarded by Michigan Catalysis Society

2019 Catalysis Club of Philadelphia Award

May 2019

September 2019

Elsa Koninckx (NU) CISTAR Graduate Fellow

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship awarded by NSF

Belgian American Educational Foundation Fellowship

May 2019
Nicole LiBretto (PU) CISTAR Graduate Fellow 2019 CISTAR Mentoring Award presented at 2019 CISTAR Annual Meeting  May 2019
Shanti Nayak (UNM) CISTAR Graduate Fellow First Place - Poster competition 12th Natural Gas Conversion Symposium June 2019
Jessica Muhlenkamp CISTAR Graduate Fellow First Place - CISTAR Perfect Poster Pitch competition at 2019 Biannual Meeting September 2019
Joan Brennecke  CISTAR Deputy Director Distinguished Alumni Award at the University of Illinois October 2019
Tobin Marks CISTAR Thrust 3 Lead Elected to the European Academy of Sciences  October 2019