Purdue Catalysis Program Is the Right Fit for Graduate Student Jamie Harris
By Kay Hagen
When James "Jamie" Harris started applying
to graduate schools, he knew he wanted a
school where he could study catalysis. On the
recommendation of his undergraduate advisor, he
applied to Purdue. "Once I was admitted and met
Fabio, that's when I decided to come," he says.
Harris is talking about Fabio Ribeiro, the R.
Norris and Eleanor Shreve Professor of Chemical
Engineering. Ribeiro is one of five faculty members
in the School who are part of the Purdue Catalysis
Center. He co-advises Harris with Rajamani
Gounder, the Larry and Virginia Faith Assistant
Professor of Chemical Engineering.
"For me the best part has just been having all of
these people in one place. It's a really exciting time to
be studying catalysis here," Harris says. "For example,
if I have a question about something that Dr. Miller is
an expert in, I can just drop in his office and ask him."
Jeffrey Miller is another professor in the School, and
a member of the Purdue Catalysis Center.
Coming from a smaller chemical engineering
program at the University of Virginia, Harris says the
opportunities at Purdue are unique. "There are just
some things a smaller school doesn't necessarily
have access to. They don't have the same capabilities
that five faculty in one research area lead to, so
sometimes they have to limit what they can do in a
Since being admitted to the PhD program in the Fall
of 2012, Harris has studied five different reactions. He
says this is both good and bad, "Normally you might
study one reaction or type of reaction for five years."
In his case he says, it's good to gain the knowledge,
to adapt, do a literature review and figure out how to
get familiar with new topics, but it's different than a
traditional PhD experience.
Harris' current research project is on synthesizing
and characterizing molecular sieve catalysts
with Lewis acidic heteroatoms. "I focus a lot on
characterizing those catalysts that we synthesized,
specifically counting the number of Lewis acid sites
in the materials," he says.
By making the materials post-synthetically or
hydrothermally, Harris ends up with hydrophobic
or hydrophilic materials. Then, after counting the
number of active sites, he can determine the effect
of a hydrophobic or hydrophilic environment on
catalysis. He thinks the characterization techniques
he's developing will allow other researchers to
benchmark their materials. Even longer term, this
research could have applications for developing
specialty and/or green chemicals that are small
volume and high value.
After graduation, Harris intends to stay in academia.
He is looking into post doctoral appointments in both
academia and potentially at national laboratories.
He's also improving his teaching skills. This semester
he's leading a section of the undergraduate unit
operations course and taking an educational methods
course in addition to his research work.
With that graduation date looming closer, estimated
around August of 2017, Harris has a couple of pieces
of advice for prospective graduate students. "The
most important thing is who your advisor is going to
be and not the school you're going to go to. That can
be hard because you don't know who these people
are, but read some papers and try to figure out who
the best research groups are in your field of choice.
Try to find someone who is in the field that you're
interested in at your current school who can give you
an idea," he says. And finally, "If you want to study
catalysis, you should be at Purdue."