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Rivera honored for innovation in engineering education


ASU Professor Daniel E. Rivera

Professor Daniel E. Rivera has distinguished himself through interactive computer-based tools he has developed to help current and future engineers in applying complex concepts to new and diverse settings. Photograph courtesy of ASU

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September 17, 2020

Daniel E. Rivera has been selected for the David Himmelblau Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, or AIChE. Rivera, a professor of chemical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, is being recognized for significant contributions to computer-based education within his field.

Rivera’s research focuses on control systems engineering. Applications of the techniques he has developed help to optimize operations and ensure safety in settings ranging from petrochemical refineries to semiconductor fabrication facilities. His recent efforts include the extension of control systems engineering techniques to behavioral medicine.

Complementing this impactful research, Rivera has distinguished himself as an innovative educator.

“Daniel has been highly dedicated to student success throughout his 30 years at ASU. The courses he teaches have a sharp learning curve, but his tireless dedication ensures that no one falls through the cracks,” said David Nielsen, associate professor and program chair for chemical engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of the six Fulton Schools. “Additionally, as software and technologies evolve, Daniel always brings the latest industry- and research-relevant tools into the classroom to fully equip our students for future success.”

Praise from colleagues at institutions across the country and around the world offer further testament to Rivera’s impact on engineering pedagogy beyond ASU.

“Professor Rivera’s teaching laboratory provides students with authentic hands-on experiences. When I was designing educational materials for my undergraduate control laboratory, I followed him to learn about how to best carry out process control laboratory education,” said Richard Braatz, professor of chemical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Sebastián Dormido Bencomo, a professor emeritus at the School of Computer and Information Engineering within the National University of Distance Education in Madrid, Spain, has collaborated with Rivera for 16 years and keenly appreciates the excellence of his work.

“Daniel’s development of new tools and experiments, his organization of technical events and his delivery of seminal talks about interactive education on automatic control systems make him an international authority in our field,” Dormido said.

George Stephanopoulos, a professor with joint appointments at ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences and the Fulton Schools, said Rivera’s development of computer aids for process control and system identification education have supported many generations of chemical engineers. He adds that Rivera’s impact extends beyond traditional university instruction because engineers currently practicing within industry benefit from Rivera’s short courses, as do professionals who access the materials through the internet.

“His work has also had a transdisciplinary character in that students of fields ranging from electrical and mechanical engineering to psychology and medicine have benefitted from Professor Rivera’s process control instruction,” Stephanopoulous said. “Graduates from his lab have been trained to make major contributions in high-profile positions across diverse industries.”

Rivera says he is profoundly honored by this recognition from AIChE and sees the award as inspiration to continue his research and teaching to advance system identification and process control.

“My hope is for students to visualize all the stages of what are complex, multifaceted phenomena,” Rivera said. “The interactive computer-based tools we have developed are meant to help them better understand how everything fits together. And that’s very important because our future engineers need to apply these concepts in often new and diverse settings.”

AIChE will honor Rivera with the David Himmelblau Award during the institute’s annual meeting this November.

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