Richardson Travel Bursary recipient, Alistair Rodman, reports from The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting

10 January 2018

10 Jan 2018

Alistair Rodman was awarded the Richardson Travel Bursary to attend a conference in Minneapolis. Here, he tells us how his visit was an excellent opportunity to attend interesting sessions such as ‘Advances in Optimisation’.

‘I was fortunate enough to attend The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting from Sunday the 29 of October to Friday the 3 of November 2017 thanks to receiving the Richardson Travel Bursary from SCI. The event, described as the premier educational forum for chemical engineers, takes place each year in a different major US city and is attended by a large number of experts from both academia and industry. The 2017 meeting was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, comprising of original programming from 22 of AIChE’s Divisions and Forums. Over 5,500 presentations were given throughout the week with over 7,000 chemical engineers working in academia and R&D in attendance. Talks from these academic and industrial experts covered a broad spectrum of topics relating to cutting-edge research, new technologies and emerging growth areas within the field of chemical engineering. I applied to attend this conference to present two talks relating to results from my PhD research, to attend many talks closely related to my work and meet and engage in discussions with academics working in the same field.

'I travelled to Minneapolis from Edinburgh on Saturday 28 October in advance of the conference beginning the following day. After arriving at my hotel in the late afternoon I spent the evening looking over my slides and making final preparations for the two oral presentations I would deliver over the next week. The meeting formally began on the morning of Sunday the 29, having been proceeded by the 2017 Annual AIChE Student Conference at the same venue. I arrived at the convention centre in the morning to register and after receiving the welcome pack I took some time to study the schedule and plan exactly which sessions I would attend during the week. Due the vast number of oral talks there is often over 50 sessions running in parallel, it was essential to plan the week carefully to ensure I could attend the sessions I was most interested in due to their relevance to my PhD research. The opening session I attended on Sunday afternoon was titled Green Pharmaceutical Process Development and Biocatalysts. The Annual Meeting Opening Reception was held in the evening, where exhibits from some of the conference sponsors were on display as food and refreshments were served, providing an opportunity to meet attendees who had travelled to the conference from all over the world.

'Monday began early with sessions commencing at 8am when I attended the plenary session of the Computing and Systems Technology Division (CAST) which consisted of 5 invited talks from leading contributors in the division. After a brief coffee break, which proved a useful networking opportunity, the first session on Advances in Optimisation took place. This was a particularly insightful session where talks focused on theoretical and algorithmic developments for a broad range of optimization problems. Successful application and implementation of these developments was highlighted by the speakers presenting case studies where these methods have been successfully applied to chemical engineering problems, highlighting the impact and significance of these contributions. A poster session was held in the afternoon, with a range of research topics on display. The poster sub-sessions Food and Bioprocess Engineering and Pharmaceutical were of great interest to me, with the less formal nature the poster session compared to oral talks helping to promote extensive discussions with the authors of the posters most related to my research goals. In the evening, there were numerous receptions hosted by some of the leading Universities in chemical engineering research. These proved an excellent opportunity to be introduced to some renowned academics and members of their research groups, many of whom I am familiar with their published work but had until now not had the pleasure of meeting in person. With the departmental receptions going on past 9pm this proved a long, exhausting but extremely rewarding day.

'I woke early on Tuesday the 31 October in anticipation of giving my first oral presentation later that day. I spent the morning at the Advances in Computational Methods and Numerical Analysis session where a broad spectrum of applications of computational science in Chemical Engineering problems were discussed. Shortly after, the session Complex and Networked Chemical and Biochemical Systems began, where I presented my talk titled Parameter Estimation and Sensitivity Analysis in Beer Fermentation Modelling and Dynamic Optimisation. My talk was well received with several questions from the audience leading to later discussion after the session. The other contributions in the session were insightful, with speakers concerned with the modelling, analysis and control of networked and biological process systems. This lead well into the Modeling & Simulation of Complex Systems session in the afternoon where projects which use modelling and simulation to optimize efficiency as well as providing process insight were presented.

'On the morning of Wednesday 1 November, I presented my second oral talk titled On the Impact of Solution Representations for Stochastic Optimisation of Control Trajectories of Industrial Fermentation Processes in the second Advances in Optimisation session. As the last speaker in the session I had the pleasure of listening to 6 contributions regarding the optimisation of a broad range of engineering problems before delivering my own talk. Once more this was successful leading to discussions with members of the audience after the session concluded. It was a great relief having delivered both my talks by this point, knowing that I was free to enjoy the remainder of the conference and absorb as much material as possible. The John M. Prausnitz AIChE Institute Lecture titled Process Systems Engineering (PSE) Contributions in Pharmaceuticals was given by Prof G.V. Rex Reklaitis of Purdue University. This talk provided an excellent overview of the field, highlighting some extremely promising developments that have the potential to drastically improve patient healthcare. In the afternoon, I attended talks from sessions titled Modeling and Computation in Energy and Environment, Process Intensification and Advanced Control of Pharmaceutical Processes and Dynamic Simulation and Optimization. All three sessions were highly interesting, with the later featuring two talks from John P. Eason (Carnegie Mellon University) on the improvement and application of the collocation method for dynamic optimisation, which I found particularly valuable as I have been implementing this method in my research to date.

'I spent the morning of Thursday 2 November attending the session Advances in Food and Bioprocess Engineering, where contributions from academia and industry addressed key issues in food and feed security as well as novel bioprocessing technology. In the afternoon sessions included Advances in Biocatalysis and Biosynthesis II, Catalytic Biomass Conversion to Chemicals and Developments in the Pretreatment of Lignocellulosics for Bioconversion which are all extremely pertinent to my research interest in biochemical process modelling and optimisation. After the sessions concluded the evening proved my first chance to have a little free time in Minneapolis, which I spent having dinner and relaxing with several peer postgraduate researchers who were also attending the conference.

'I departed from Minneapolis on Friday, 3 November, returning to Edinburgh with improved knowledge, further understanding of the recent developments pertaining to my own research, a greater appreciation for the scope of the progress taking place within the chemical engineering field and being in contact with potential collaborators and future colleagues.

'I am extremely grateful for having received the SCI Richardson Travel Bursary enabling me to attend and present at AIChE 2017.’

Alistair Rodman, MEng, Doctoral Researcher
Institute for Materials and Processes, University of Edinburgh

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