03 October 2013

Chemeca 2013 - Day two and three highlights

Chemeca 2013 logo

Chemical engineering in space

The final day of Chemeca 2013 commenced with a stimulating presentation by the dean of Edward E Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering at Texas Tech University, Al Sacco Jr, who recounted his NASA space flight experience accompanied by impressive images of earth and space in flight.

Sacco flew as the payload specialist on the Space Shuttle Columbia on a 16-day shuttle mission STS-73 in 1995 and was the first practising chemical engineer to do so. His role aboard Columbia focused on materials science, biotechnology, combustion science and fluid mechanics contained within the pressurised Spacelab module.

Author to more than 192 publications, Sacco’s written work has focused on the areas of carbon filament initiation and growth, transition metal and acid catalyst and their deactivation, and zeolite synthesis. In addition to this, he has consulted for numerous organisations in the fields of catalysis, solid/gas contracting, zeolite synthesis and applications, and equipment design for space applications.

Sacco is a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and was elected to the International Academy of Astronautics in 2004. With over 300 presentations under his belt, Sacco has also been proactive in using his flight experience as a tool to inspire students to consider careers in science and engineering.

Delegates heard about the physical experience of space travel and the important scientific research done that can benefit humanity.

Sacco grew a lot of crystals in flight to compare them with those grown terrestrially, as a zero-gravity environment produces almost flawless structures.

“We also grew a lot of proteins, including the first HIV protein that was crystallised. Proteins grown in space can help us understand disease, which will assist in improving pharmaceutical development.

“Taking advantage of conducting these experiments in this environment meant that we can do it better on the ground. It also helped us to understand separation science better in the absence of gravity.”

Education and industry working together

With over 350 delegates taking part in the annual three day conference themed, “Challenging Tomorrow”, many technical presentations, poster sessions and other topics covered during the conference, included issues around industrial process safety challenges, innovation, mega projects, and energy, the environment and the economy.

Addressing education and its challenges gave us the opportunity to hear the collective view of Australia and New Zealand’s university department heads, with responses from industry and a global view from IChemE. Speakers shared their vision on how educators can work better to prepare graduates to be ‘work ready’ and how there is a vital need for deeper partnerships with industry for the success of chemical engineering degree programmes.

The Chem-E Car challenge was a fun distraction from the all the seriousness and attracted several international teams, including the winning entry, Subali 5, from Indonesia’s Universitas Gadjah Mada. The Chem-E Car is about working as a team to design a complex chemical process reaction to a tight schedule and on a fixed budget.

All conference speaker fees were donated to Engineers without Borders.

Chemeca is the annual three day conference for the Australian and New Zealand community of chemical and process engineers and industrial chemists who come together to recognise achievement, share industry advancements and lessons learned. This year the conference is being held in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

My IChemE

IChemE is a registered charity in England & Wales (214379), and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 039661).