In the Department
of Chemical Engineering
at Penn State University, Professors Darrell Velegol
(left) and Seong H. Kim are educating "companies"
of students who can analyze at the molecular level, but who can
also conduct design at the systems level. Students form companies
or six. Each student specializes on a certain aspect of the experimental
station, and then use cooperative learning to teach their part to
the entire company.
Velegol explains, "Our Armfield distillation column has many
functions: separations and thermodynamics, heat exchange, full process
control. The unit is visual, operates under computerized control,
and records the data in a computer. Not only do students analyze
the separation process at the molecular level, but as a company
they design methods for increasing yield or optimizing energy use."
Until a few years ago, the Penn State lab used equipment that
was sub-optimal for teaching
21st century engineers. But since then, almost $400,000 has been
invested in the lab on new equipment and upgrades. Proposals
written to and funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, with
extensive matching funds from the Department of Chemical Engineering
and the College of Engineering. Professor Themis Matsoukas purchased
the first piece of Armfield equipment a process control unit about
six years ago. It is, according to Velegol, a rugged piece of equipment,
easy-to-use, and capable of clearly demonstrating control principles.
In addition to the distillation column and process control unit,
the lab now includes an Armfield process-controlled CSTR and a
combination liquid-liquid extractor/distillation unit. These account
for about half the financial investment in new lab equipment and
piece of Armfield equipment, for process control.
Velegol notes, "One key to the lab is the apprenticeship the
students receive in conducting these systems-level operations. The
students first learn the experiment - easy to do on the Armfield
equipment - and then they conduct base-case studies. But they quickly
progress to proposing new ideas for increasing yields or attaining
specified purities, which they can also run due to the versatility
of the Armfield equipment. They run the experiments, conduct the
necessary computer simulations, and explain the molecular-level
aspects of the work. They write and re-write and re-write again
drafts of written and oral presentations as a company, getting weekly
feedback from the faculty."
staff, and perhaps most especially students have been instrumental
in achieving the new lab. The department head, Professor
Henry C. Foley, has been instrumental in attaining funding,
proposing themes, and supporting ideas.
Velegol notes, "Our undergrads have an international reputation,
and we owe it to them to provide the tools they need to maintain
that status. But our undergrads - and we graduate up to 150 very
bright students per year - have also been constructive in helping
us to upgrade our lab. They want to run new experiments, try new
ideas, and produce change."
Others have also had input in changing the lab. Don Lucas
helped to clear the old equipment out and install infrastructure
to support the new equipment, an important phase of the upgrade.
Dave Decapria has used his technical expertise
in electronics, hydraulics, and equipment to maintain and improve
the lab. In addition, Mr. Decapria recently attended a training
session on Armfield equipment near London, England. Having reliable
and easy-to-use equipment from Armfield also provides the time-opening
necessary to bring in new ideas and equipment. Two years ago the
department installed a bio-pharma separations unit, and soon Professor
Kim will be installing an electronics processing station. Velegol
says, "Keeping the lab at the forefront is an ongoing process,
and we use all the help we can get."