Professor Xiao Su wins NSF CAREER Award


Dr. Xiao Su, assistant professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, has been awarded a National Science Foundation Early CAREER Award for his work on developing new molecular separation processes for isomer separation.

The NSF’s Early Career Development Program’s CAREER Awards are prestigious and competitive awards given to junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their respective organizations.

Assistant Professor Xiao Su won an NSF CAREER Award
Assistant Professor Xiao Su

For this project, Su will explore electrochemical approaches to enhancing molecular selectivity in isomeric separations. Selective separation of biologically-active molecules from the liquid-phase can be one of the most expensive steps in pharmaceutical and biochemical manufacturing. Isomers are molecules that have the same atom composition but differ in structural arrangement, and enantiomers are isomers that are non-superimposable mirror images of each other. Isomeric purification can be an extremely difficult separation process.

More than half of drugs currently used in the US and worldwide have been enantiomers, including therapeutics for cancer, AIDS, neurologic diseases, and arthritis. While one enantiomer often provides superior clinical performance, the opposite enantiomer can be potentially toxic. Su seeks to develop new isomeric separation processes based on electrochemically-mediated interactions for more efficient and sustainable purification of small molecules.

“I am truly excited to receive the NSF CAREER award, which will enable new directions in my research group on rational design of electrodes, and enantioselective separations. The project strongly aligns with our vision to bring electrochemical approaches to fine chemical separations, and provides an opportunity to connect fundamental chemistry concepts with chemical engineering applications,” Su said. “I am also very excited to start our proposed outreach activities, through all the educational resources here at Illinois.”

Su’s project is entitled “CAREER: Molecular Design of Electrochemically-Mediated Systems for Isomeric Separations.” The NSF CAREER award will provide five years of support for the project and a number of integrated outreach activities. For outreach, he plans to collaborate with the University of Illinois Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning and the International Programs in Engineering to develop new programs for improving engineering undergraduate education, strengthening K-12 outreach, and promoting international exchange.

Xiao Su joined the department as an assistant professor in January 2019. He received his PhD in Chemical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2017, and conducted his postdoctoral research there. His research group explores the supramolecular engineering of electrochemical interfaces, with a focus on molecularly-selective separations, functional materials discovery and process intensification.

Congratulations, Dr. Su!