Meet the Chair
|Name: Thomas Truskett
Title: Department Chair; Paul D. & Betty Robertson Meek Centennial Professor; Bill L. Stanley Endowed Leadership Chair
Hometown: Longview, Texas
Research: Novel dispersions for subcutaneous delivery and storage of therapeutic proteins, engineering complex fluids with low viscosity, transport processes in nanoporous materials, dispersant behavior relevant to deep-sea water conditions, design of self-assembling materials
Education: Ph.D., M.A., chemical engineering, Princeton University; B.S., chemical engineering, The University of Texas at Austin
What’s the best part about being a professor?
The challenges of the chemical engineering curriculum provide students incredible opportunities for learning and professional development. Having the chance to help and encourage students in that process and ultimately seeing how they respond and grow are some of the most rewarding parts of my job.
Do you have a funny teaching story or an experience that you look back on and laugh about?
Before teaching my first lecture, I stepped out of my office for a few minutes to ask a colleague for some last minute advice. When I returned, just before the lecture, I reached down to open the door and…the doorknob was gone. My lecture notes and syllabus were locked inside! Luckily, the building manager was able to open the door.
I later found out that zone maintenance inadvertently removed the wrong doorknob for routine service. It seems funny now, but I guess there’s a lesson in that story about being prepared and confident enough to handle the unexpected.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from your students?
To give them the resources and skills they need to get started and then to get out of their way. Some of the most creative solutions I’ve seen to tough problems have come when students—well trained in chemical engineering fundamentals—have been given the freedom to innovate.
You recently ran Austin’s 3M half marathon, how else do you spend your time away from work?
I come from a family of runners. My parents and brother have run several marathons and some ultras. I enjoy running too, but my race resume is much shorter. These days, I spend a lot of time with my family outside of work. Austin has no shortage of parks, libraries, music, art festivals and wonderful places to eat. We live close to downtown, so it’s easy to take advantage. Our recent favorites include the East Austin Studio Tour and The City Theatre Company on Airport Blvd.
What was the last book you read for fun?
Right now I’m reading “Titan”, a biography of John Rockefeller. I just finished “The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King” by Rich Cohen, a historical profile of Sam Zemurray, the United Fruit Company, and how bananas—which don’t grow in the continental U.S.—became America’s most common fruit. Other books I’ve enjoyed reading this year: “True Believers” by Kurt Andersen, “Of Human Bondage” by Somerset Maugham, “House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton, and “The Beautiful Struggle” by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
What music are you listening to these days?
When there’s time, I go see live music with my family. Last year, we went to see Kelly Willis, Junior Brown, and Redd Volkaert as part of the Bob Bullock Museum’s free summer concert series. We’ve seen Dale Watson several times since moving back to Austin. My wife and I had a great time seeing The Pixies play at Austin Music Hall in 2010.
What challenges do you see the chemical engineering industry facing today?
The main challenge is developing economically sound chemical processes that are safe and meet the environmental, economic, and human health needs of today’s society. Currently, there is a pressing demand for new catalysts, materials, and processes that make the best use of economically attractive, but finite, natural resources.
For example, shale gas exploration in recent years is leading to large-scale production of natural gas, ethane, and natural gas liquids-a trend that is rapidly changing which materials and processes make sense for the chemical industry to focus on in North America. And yet, we also need leadership in making sure what we do, and make, is sustainable, which argues for research and development in areas like chemical manufacturing via renewable feedstocks, green chemistry, clean energy production and storage, carbon capture, and water treatment and purification.
How is the department prepared to address these challenges?
The innovations required to address today’s challenges in the chemical industry will come from interdisciplinary research in catalysis and materials chemistry, nanotechnology, molecular modeling, systems-based design of chemical processes, biotechnology, and environmental engineering-no one argues that.
Our faculty—well funded by federal, private, and industrial grants—have vast expertise, and an incredible track record of productivity, in these areas. As a top-five program nationwide, we have one of the largest, most talented, and best-trained pools of chemical engineering students in the world. In turn, we have produced a network of distinguished and loyal alumni that support the department’s mission to be the best public chemical engineering program. Scholarships, Graduate Fellowships, Excellence Funds and Faculty endowments, made possible with continued alumni support via the Challenge for McKetta, ensure the success and growth of the department. For these and for our annual fund supporters, I am extremely grateful.
*Read the formal announcement of Truskett’s appointment