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Schiffman Becomes First Recipient of James Douglas Early Career Faculty Development Award

Assistant Professor Jessica D. Schiffman of the Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is the initial recipient of the Professor James Douglas Early Career Faculty Development Award. Douglas was a former faculty member and department head in the UMass Amherst ChE department. The award is being made “in honor of Professor Douglas’ research innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and ability to tackle complex problems using innovative and non-traditional approaches to achieve results.”

Douglas cut a distinctive path through the process design community in chemical engineering. He pioneered a rational approach to design, embodied in a systematic design method that altered the well-established belief that no one could teach process design without years of experience.

“We are very grateful for this wonderful gift honoring Professor Jim Douglas who was an inspirational researcher, teacher, and mentor to generations of UMass Chemical Engineering students,” says Professor T.J. (Lakis) Mountziaris, head of the Chemical Engineering Department. “Our department is growing and this Career Development Award is very timely, because it will help us attract and retain outstanding faculty members.”

In 1954, Douglas earned a B.E. in Chemical Engineering from The Johns Hopkins University and in 1960 a Ph.D. from the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware. A recipient of the UMass Amherst Chancellor’s Medal, Douglas joined the UMass Amherst ChE department in 1968, served as department head from 1979-1982, and retired in 1997.

The purpose of the Douglas Fund is to provide an Early Career Faculty Development Award annually to an untenured faculty member in the ChE department. The funds are meant to support a faculty member whose entrepreneurial spirit and creativity is an inspiration to colleagues and students alike.

Professor Schiffman will use her funding from the Douglas Award to support her lab’s research into developing polymer hydrogels that resist microbial contamination. Delaying the onset of biofilm formation is imperative due to the high mortality rate that microbes impose to both immunocompromised and critically-ill patients. Instead of relying on antimicrobials to kill the bacteria, her innovative approach is to optimize the physical properties of polymer materials. Schiffman’s findings hold the potential to transform the bandages and textiles that are currently being administered in the medical field.

The Schiffman Lab synthesizes materials from renewable polymers and bioactive products for biomedical and environmental applications. Current projects that her team is perusing include antibiofilm coatings, nanofiber scaffolds for wound healing, as well as membranes that purify drinking water. Her research is interdisciplinary in nature, drawing influences from chemical engineering, materials science engineering, environmental engineering, and microbiology.

In the summer of 2013 Schiffman received a two-year grant of $174,000 from the National Science Foundation to support her research into improving ultrafiltration membranes — a vital separation technology in drinking water purification plants and a broad range of industries, including blood filtration/treatment, protein purification, and metal ion recovery. Schiffman’s NSF research, entitled “BRIGE: Engineering Antifouling Ultrafiltration Membranes Using Polycationic Nanofibers,” was one of only 25 projects funded from approximately 260 applications.

Schiffman earned her B.S. from Rutgers University in Ceramic & Materials Engineering, her M.Eng. degree from Cornell University in Materials Science & Engineering, and her Ph.D. from Drexel University in Materials Science & Engineering. She also completed a post-doctoral appointment at Yale University in Chemical & Environmental Engineering. Schiffman joined the UMass ChE department in 2011.

For more information on how you can support groundbreaking research in the College of Engineering, please call Paula Sakey, director of development, at (413) 545-6396. (January 2014)