Regents’ Professor expands horizons of chemical engineering
Editor's Note: This professor profile is part of a series that looks at the achievements of seven outstanding faculty members who were named ASU Regents' Professors in 2011.
As a young college student in China, Jerry Lin didn’t think a degree in chemical engineering would take him far.
“I thought I would finish college and work in a factory in China as a technician,” Lin recalls. Thirty years later, his degree has taken him around the world.
Lin was drawn to an emerging area of chemical engineering and his mastery of it would earn him a scholarship for graduate study in the United States, a post-doctoral research job at a leading university in Europe and faculty positions at American universities.
He became not only a leader in the field but helped ignite its evolution into a virtually new specialty.
His achievements put him in demand for conference presentations, research partnerships with colleagues and industry, and visiting professorships. As a result, he has plied his trade in more than 40 countries.
Now his stature has earned him a Regents’ Professor title – the highest recognition for a faculty member at Arizona State University.
Today, Lin is an internationally recognized pioneer of modern inorganic membrane science. In chemistry, membranes are thin, porous films of matter used to filter out or separate gases, liquids and chemicals from compounds on a molecular level. Such separation or “selective transport” methods are critical to technological advances in medicine, manufacturing, energy production and environmental protection.
Lin is also known for his work with adsorbents – often granular materials – that can selectively separate various gases and liquids. Combining expertise in materials science and chemistry, Lin creates new adsorbents and membranes and designs the processes for using them for specific purposes.
“We are extending the boundaries of what chemical engineering can do, and that is exciting,” he says.
Lin “was at the top of the list” when the Journal of Membrane Science sought an editor for its inorganic membrane section and was “highly effective [in that role] in working with others to advance that technology,” says William Koros, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who is the journal’s former longtime editor-in-chief.
Lin “is among the rare breed of academic researchers who have made scholarly contributions that are inspired by real-life applications,” says Rakesh Agrawal, a professor in Purdue University’s School of Chemical Engineering.
Richard D. Noble, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Colorado, says, “Jerry took a field that was an academic curiosity and made it a technical and economic success story.”
But such accolades are not all that motivates him.
“I am recognized more for my research and scholarship, but my students are what I consider my main achievement,” Lin says.
In the past 20 years, Lin has become a sought-after mentor, serving as adviser to 70 graduate students and post-doctoral students who are starting their careers.
“Some come in as raw material, knowing very little, but in four or five years become high-quality students,” he says. “It’s a challenging process that can be frustrating, but it’s rewarding when you produce good chemical engineers. It’s why I’ve chosen to be a professor, not just a researcher.”
His former students are employed throughout much of the world. The field “is attracting top people,” he says, “because there is potential to make an impact and to answer some of the big questions in science.”
To break out of his workaholic mold, Lin takes to the road.
“I like the grand scenic places, the major wonders of the world and the famous historic sites, and seeing different cultures,” he says, listing locales on several continents he has visited.
Education, engineering and science run in the family. Lin’s wife, Alice, is an elementary school teacher in Tempe. Daughter Iris is earning a political science degree and is headed to law school. Daughter Belle, who will soon start college, is “interested in science,” Lin says.
His two brothers are engineers, his mother was a physician, and his father was a government official with engineering training whose duties included managing power facilities.
Lin almost diverged from the family’s course early in life. As a teenager he was an outstanding swimmer, nearly qualifying for international competition. He applied to one of China’s elite sports universities, “and I almost got in,” he says. “After I didn’t, I decided to go in the direction of engineering and science.”
The loss to the sports world became chemical engineering’s gain.
Regents’ Professor, Arizona State University
Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
American Institute of Chemical Engineers Institute Award for Excellence in Industrial Gases Technology
Chinese National Science Foundation Researcher Collaboration Award
Li Ka Shing Foundation/Chinese Ministry of Education Cheung Kong Scholar Award
National Science Foundation CAREER Award
Four patents, 10 book chapters, 215 journal articles and 60 conference papers and more than 300 conference presentations
Journal articles have been cited more than 5,300 times by other researchers with h-index of 42 (42 papers have each been cited at least 42 times)
$10 million in research support from the National Science Foundation, Department of energy, Environmental Protection Agency, the State Of Ohio and industry sources
28 doctoral student dissertations supervised
Editor, Journal of Membrane Science
Visiting Senior Scientist, State Grid Cooperation of China
George T. Piercy Distinguished Visiting Professor, Department if Chemical Engineering and Materials Science., University of Minnesota
Cheung Kong Scholar Guest Chair Professor, Tianjin University
Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Fellow (1998-1999), Department of Chemical Systems Engineering, University of Tokyo
Co-director (2003-2004) National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center for Membrane Applied Science and Technology
Conference chairman of the 8th International Conference on Inorganic Membranes and the 2010 Gordon Research Conference on Membranes
Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China
Master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts
Doctor of Science degree in materials science, University of Twente, The Netherlands