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A student majoring in chemical engineering is studying the separation of organic aromatic compounds in a project that may one day help improve industrial safety and profitability.

The chemical process industry benefits from such research in finding ways to separate two chemicals when one is toxic and the other is useful, according to Tim Wetzel ’02.

The EXCEL Scholars project, conducted with James K. Ferri, assistant professor of chemical engineering, will measure and model the vapor-liquid equilibrium of a mixture consisting of two substituted aromatic compounds and an ionic surfactant, or detergent.

“So far I’ve enjoyed the project. I understand it and believe it has good applications. I’m happy to be doing it,” says Wetzel. At the same time, he says, much of his work so far has involved setting up new equipment to do his experiments and he’s anxious to get started with them. He estimates that the apparatus will be up and running in two weeks.

According to Ferri, separation processes such as distillation make up much of capital investment in the chemical process industry, and detergents are often used to enhance separation.

“In order to model the manner in which these enhancing agents act, it is necessary to examine the separation process in general,” says Ferri. “I have a long-term interest in studying and understanding the phenomena involved in surfactant-enhanced distillation.”

The project includes three phases: vapor-liquid equilibrium experiments, analysis of samples and the evaluation of the results, and preparing an academic paper, which the professor expects within the next year.

Wetzel says he enjoys doing research as an undergraduate, and likes working closely with a professor, which might not be possible at a larger school.

“The professor is very personable and knowledgeable,” Wetzel says. “All my professors have been easy to approach, and not just during their office hours.”

A graduate of Selinsgrove High School, Wetzel has won prizes in math competitions. He is a member of Lafayette Christian Fellowship and the engineering honor society.

Categorized in: Academic News