, along with the University of Pittsburgh School of Engineering, congratulates the recipient of the 2007-2008 Board of Visitor’s (BOV’s) Faculty Award: Anna Balazs, PhD (pictured), McGowan Institute faculty member, and University of Pittsburgh Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering and Robert Luft Professor of Engineering. The purpose of the BOV’s Faculty Award is to recognize the single-most outstanding member of the School of Engineering faculty who has had the most productive previous academic year in areas such as program development, leadership in the development of graduate research programs, meritorious recognition by peers at the national level, and special recognition as a teacher.
Professor Balazs’ work has focused on developing theoretical and computational models to capture the behavior of polymer blends, nanocomposites, complex fluids, and colloidal systems. She helps create materials “by design” by developing predictive models for the behavior of these advanced materials. It is in this area that Dr. Balazs and her research group have made fundamentally important and unique contributions, which are allowing scientists to understand how choices made at the molecular level affect the macroscopic performance of the system. Dr. Balazs’ work is having a significant impact because she attacks complex yet realistic systems; systems that are usually considered too heterogeneous to be modeled by anything but empirical approaches. Her work is both theoretically elegant and applicable to real materials of industrial relevance.
Dr. Balazs is arguably the most productive professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, having published 16 papers last year in high-impact journals and placing in the top 1 or 2 faculty in this category every year. Professor Balazs has authored a total of 200 journal papers and 22 book chapters. In the last decade, she has published 12-15 papers a year. Most remarkably, each year since 1999, she has published a paper in either Science, Nature, or Physical Review Letter. In 2006, she actually had two papers in Science within the same month; something unprecedented within the Swanson School of Engineering! Professor Balazs is also remarkably enthusiastic about involving undergraduates in her research activities. She has published 22 papers with undergraduate co-authors.
Dr. Balazs’ work is very highly cited. Her published papers have received about 4,000 total citations. From data compiled from 1981-1997, she appears on the list of the top 1% of most cited worldwide. Dr. Balazs’ work has also received considerable attention in the popular media and scientific magazines. Her research on designing “molecular Velcro” was described in The Economist and Science News. Her work on adhesion at polymer/polymer interfaces was cited by the American Physical Society as being one of the outstanding developments in materials science in 1994. Her research on the interactions between the influenza virus and red blood cells was highlighted in Chemical and Engineering News in 1998. As noted in the write-up, her “theoretical model for the way viruses interact with cell surfaces helps explain earlier experimental findings on such interactions and could facilitate researchers’ ability to design better viral inhibitors.”
From her appointment at the University of Pittsburgh in 1987 to Sept 2008, Dr. Balazs has delivered 282 invited lectures around the world. In 2000-2001, and again in 2007-2008, she was elected a Visiting Fellow at Corpus Christi College at Oxford University in the UK, where she spent two sabbaticals. Dr. Balazs is the only School of Engineering faculty member to have received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Special Creativity Award. These awards, designated by NSF program officers, offer the most creative investigators an extended opportunity to attack adventurous, “high-risk” opportunities. Her research efforts have been recognized by the University, having been awarded both the Junior (in 1990) and Senior (in 2002) Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award. Dr. Balazs was elected a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1993. Recently, she was awarded the Maurice Huggins Award, bestowed by her peers and given on behalf of the Gordon Research Conference for outstanding contributions to Polymer Science.
Professor Balazs has been highly successful in securing funding for research. In particular, she has obtained financial support from NSF, DOE, ARO, ONR, AFOSR, DARPA, and a number of industries, including most recently, Dow Chemical, Dow Corning, ICI, and Kodak. Her research expenditures since 2002 alone total $5.6 million dollars.
Although there are many fine theoreticians working in the field of material design, it is truly rare to find these people working collaboratively with industry. One of Dr. Balazs’ strengths is her ability to convey the practical importance of her complex theoretical work, and hence she has maintained a number of productive collaborations with industry. During 1995-1996, she served on the Technical Advisory Board for Dow Chemical Company, where she helped identify new businesses and products for Dow. Additionally, during 1989-1997 she also consulted for the Mitsubishi Corporation on their investigations of copolymers in immiscible fluids. Recently, she was retained as a consultant for Aristech to guide their research in polymer/polymer and polymer/clay composites. She was also a consultant for the Dow Chemical Company and Dow Corning and currently consults for Kodak.
It is noteworthy that Dr. Balazs has helped launch the careers of a number of postdoctoral researchers who went on to take up academic positions. In particular, 10 of her postdoctoral researchers have gone on to hold faculty positions in universities. In addition, one of her undergraduate researchers, Darrell Irvine, is now an Associate Professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at MIT.
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
Bio: Dr. Anna Balazs