Big ideas in chemical engineering, such as clean coal, mobile water treatment, and functional plastics are the daily work of great minds in the field -- and our world’s hope, some might say, for a sustainable future.
This November, one of the world’s most influential of this group, Russ-Ohio Research Scholar in Coal Syngas Utilization Sunggyu “K.B.” Lee will be recognized as such as he quietly accepts the honor of induction into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame. Lee, who calls Ohio University’s Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology his professional home, will join the company of Nobel and Russ Prize winners, and a host of other outstanding engineers including this year’s other inductees: cell phone inventor Martin Cooper and water control expert Arthur Ernest Morgan.
"This is yet another affirmation of the stature we knew K.B. held in the engineering community, and that led us to identify him as our obvious choice for the Russ-Ohio eminent research scholar," said Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin.
A modest yet prolific researcher, Lee directs the Sustainable Energy and Advanced Materials lab and is a world-renowned expert in alternative energy and materials, in addition to his teaching duties. Many of his research projects involve applying supercritical fluid processes to material components, fuel sources and waste products to create another usable material or fuel. The processes can turn bio-based raw materials, like vegetable oils, into environmentally friendly polyurethane, or contaminated water into clean drinking water.
“Over his career, K.B. has consistently developed novel and practical ideas in energy and materials, regardless of whether they were fashionable areas of work at the time, evidenced by hundreds of patents and papers,” said Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Chair Valerie Young. “A conversation with him about current engineering challenges can range during one cup of coffee from a future project to a book he authored a decade ago.”
Lee’s creativity in the lab is a huge draw for students both graduate and undergraduate who want to perform research with far-reaching effects on energy and materials sustainability, and to experience Lee’s mentorship of the next generation of researchers, a hallmark of his low-key style.
“He makes a personal connection with each student who crosses his path. He influences our academic and personal lives in a unique way,” said Barbi Wheelden, one of Lee’s graduate students who followed him to OHIO two years ago from his prior institution. “In this way, those impacts are even further reaching than the projects he has worked on.”
He’ll reach an even younger crowd when he addresses a group of hundreds of high school students during the induction festivities, which also include the formal enshrinement, to be initiated by Irwin.
Lee’s many accomplishments include more than a hundred domestic and international patents, eleven books, nine major research monographs, more than $14 million in research funding as principal investigator, and another $9 million as co-investigator.
After earning his undergraduate and master’s degrees at Seoul National University in Korea, Lee received his doctorate at Case Western Reserve University. He went on to teaching appointments at University of Akron, University of Missouri, and Missouri University of Science and Technology, where he contributed to the establishment of a full-scale hydrogen fueling station.
“I have a great deal of respect for his accomplishments,” said Ben Graham, president of the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame. “He is enshrined with many others who have done a great deal to benefit mankind.”