World-renowned aerosol scientist and engineer is named dean of the College of Engineering

Pratim Biswas is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.
By News@TheU

Pratim Biswas is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

World-renowned aerosol scientist and engineer is named dean of the College of Engineering

By News@TheU
Pratim Biswas, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, is a pioneer in his field recognized for applying aerosol science and engineering to multiple areas, such as energy and environmental nanotechnology, solar energy, air pollution control, and medicine.

Raised on the campus of the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, India, by a father who was a professor of chemistry at the institute and a mother who was a mathematician, Pratim Biswas grew up with STEM infused in his DNA. As a young boy, he admired the field of engineering, often marveling at how those who practiced the discipline could solve intractable problems. 

This fascination served Biswas well, as he would go on to become one of the world’s leading authorities in aerosol science and engineering. He is renowned for his work in applying aerosol science to energy and environmental nanotechnology, solar energy use, air pollution control, medicine, and other areas. Now, he is bringing his expertise, vision, and organizational skills to the University of Miami. 

Biswas, the Lucy and Stanley Lopata Professor in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, has been named dean of the University of Miami College of Engineering. 

A member of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering, Biswas has begun transitioning to the University and will be integrating with the College of Engineering this fall and assuming his new post in January 2021. 

“Pratim Biswas is a leader in his field, a skilled academician, scholar, and researcher who is deeply dedicated to helping both students and faculty members to excel,” said University of Miami President Julio Frenk. “His knowledge of all facets of engineering and his ideas on bolstering interdisciplinary initiatives at the University promise to elevate the College of Engineering to new heights.” 

“As a member of the academy, Dr. Biswas brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and expertise to the University of Miami, along with a passion that will benefit everyone at the college and throughout the University,” said Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. “His keen insights and work in the area of aerosol science is applicable to several ongoing research areas at the University of Miami such as climate change, sea level rise, and public health.” 

At Washington University, Biswas serves as assistant vice chancellor for international programs and chair of the Department of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering. 

He arrived at Washington University 20 years ago to rebuild an environmental engineering science program that had been dismantled 30 years prior. Six years later, he created the Department of Energy, Environmental and Chemical Engineering, the first program of its kind nationally—which currently has 146 undergraduates, 30 master’s-degree students, and 110 Ph.D. students; 24 tenured, tenure-track, teaching, and research faculty members; and $8 million in annual research expenditures. Biswas is proud of his more than 55 doctoral graduates of the Aerosol and Air Quality Research Laboratory, and he has published more than 425 peer-reviewed journal papers with them. 

During his stint at Washington University in St. Louis, Biswas orchestrated numerous national and international collaborations. He serves as the university’s ambassador to the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and directs the McDonnell Academy Global Energy and Environmental Partnership, a consortium of 35 universities worldwide in which scholars collaborate on research and new educational initiatives. 

At the University of Miami, working with his faculty colleagues, students, alumni, other stakeholders and the University administration, Biswas hopes to implement a bold vision for the College of Engineering, congruent to the University’s Roadmap to the New Century. In one area, he would be building an interdisciplinary chemical engineering program at the College of Engineering consistent with the chemical and molecular sciences initiative of the University. “That particular branch of engineering has far-reaching impacts,” he said, noting that it leads to advances in health care and medicine as well as the development of systems for synthesis of advanced materials, enhancement of environmentally benign energy systems, and improvement to environmental quality. 

He is looking forward to working closely with the Frost Institute of Chemistry and Molecular Science—the first initiative under the umbrella of the Frost Institutes for Science and Engineering—as well as mentoring both students and investigators. He looks forward to further enhancing programs in all the College of Engineering departments—in areas such as health systems engineering, sustainability and resilience, data and computer science, and space science and engineering. 

The ability to build critical mass and promote growth in several other strategic areas of excellence, the opportunity to collaborate with a multitude of other schools and colleges, and an ideal mixture of junior and senior faculty members are some of the College of Engineering’s other areas of strength that appealed to Biswas. He joins three other members of the National Academy of Engineering at the University.  

“The College is also young, with over 11,000 alumni worldwide,” Biswas said. “And connecting with that alumni will be one of the cornerstones of my deanship.” 

The applications of his specialty—aerosol science and engineering, which he calls “an enabling discipline”—are numerous. “We’ve heard a lot about its importance in air-quality issues, and the United States has made significant strides to improve its overall air quality,” Biswas said. “But global challenges remain. Populations around the world that are beset by air pollution need partnership to tackle these challenges. Even in our own urban areas where there are communities that suffer from detrimental health effects like asthma that are triggered by small particles or aerosols, we can use the applications of our field to overcome these challenges.” 

At the same time, he said, aerosol scientists and engineers use a fundamental understanding of particle formation, growth, and transport to synthesize a range of advanced nanomaterials (the “good particles”) to benefit society, using them to build electronic devices, photovoltaic and photocatalytic systems, make computer chips, and manufacture and deliver drugs to treat disease. 

The University of Miami, Biswas said, has a strong foundation in aerosol science and air quality, most notably through the Rosenstiel School’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, where he will have a dual appointment. 

When the novel coronavirus began to spread exponentially around the world, Biswas knew his area of expertise could be employed to help understand and mitigate the virus’s impact. As such, he has been conducting research to develop sensors that would be carried by health care workers in emergency rooms and other settings to detect COVID-19 aerosols. “We have developed remote sensors that operate on wireless technology by which we are now monitoring exposure of health care physicians on the front lines to the virus,” he said. His group has also developed approaches to design and characterize masks to ensure that the wearer is protected. 

He looks forward to the College of Engineering furthering its collaborations with the Miller School of Medicine, College of Arts and Sciences, Miami Herbert Business School, and with the Rosenstiel School, particularly in the area of aerosol science and engineering, sustainability and resilience, and climate change. “It’s not enough to say that climate change is happening and is a problem,” he said. “But working with engineers to develop solutions will be important. Technological solutions will play a key role, and the College of Engineering is ideally placed to collaborate with the Rosenstiel School.” 

With the College of Engineering having one of the highest enrollments of women in the nation, Biswas plans to build on it. “Diversity has historically been a challenge in our discipline,” he said. “But the University of Miami is a step ahead in that regard, and it is critical to support and enhance that diversity at the undergraduate and graduate levels and within the faculty. 

“Miami is a diverse community. It’s natural to build on that. I think engineers, because of our knack for problem-solving, can reach out to communities and work with them collaboratively to help develop solutions to many problems,” Biswas said. 

Biswas was elected as a fellow of the Academy of Science, St. Louis, in 2003 and a fellow of the American Association for Aerosol Research in 2009. In 2014, he was selected as a fellow of the International Aerosol Research Assembly, and in 2017 he was elected fellow of the Association of Environmental Engineering Science Professors. He has won numerous awards—including the Fuchs Award in 2018 given to a leading aerosol scientist across the globe for their sustained contributions and accomplishments in the field of aerosol science and engineering. In 2019, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

He was the conference chair for the 10th International Aerosol Conference that was held in St. Louis, it had the largest attendance of any aerosol conference to date. He was also chair of the 15th annual meeting of the American Association for Aerosol Research held in Orlando, Florida; chair of the Critical Review Committee of the Air and Waste Management Association; an associate editor of the Aerosol Science and Technology Journal; the technical program chair of the 7th International Aerosol Conference in 2006; and chief editor of the Journal of Aerosol Science. He served on the board of directors of the American Association for Aerosol Research, and he was the treasurer in 1998 and president of the organization in 2006-07. He is a distinguished alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and a recipient of the Distinguished Faculty Award from Washington University. He is a member of the steering committee of the McDonnell International Scholars Academy and is the current president of the International Aerosol Research Assembly. 

Biswas earned a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology; a Master of Science from the University of California, Los Angeles; and a bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.