Ponisseril Somasundaran, LaVon Duddleson Krumb professor of Mineral Engineering in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering and a world leader in surfactant science, has been elected a 2016 Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). He is one of 175 new fellows, chosen for demonstrating “a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.” Together, the fellows are named inventors on 5,437 U.S. patents.
Somasundaran uses his expertise to take on problems as wide-ranging as the enrichment of scarce minerals from ultra-lean ores, the impact of cigarette smoke on lungs, noninvasive ways to diagnose plaque formation in the heart, the cleaning of oil spills, and the behavior of nanoparticles. Increasingly focused on sustainability, he is looking at the “big picture,” studying the full scope of a product’s lifecycle, from manufacture and shipping to use and disposal, and inventing ways to reduce waste. For example, liquid soaps and detergents contain large amounts of water. Somasundaran has been working on reducing the amount of water in these products to lower the amount of packaging they require and the amount of fuel needed to ship them. He has applied a similar water-saving approach to mineral processing and mine tailing treatment by developing chemicals that require less water consumption.
“I have always admired inventors, and so to be admitted to this elite group is a dream come true for me,” Somasundaran says. “I am very humbled by this honor and hope to continue to live up to its standards.”
Somasundaran’s team is currently working on a broad array of projects, including addressing the challenging problem of renewable energy storage by developing robust, earth-abundant electrocatalysts, such as a polymer-copper composite catalyst, to convert carbon dioxide into fuels. They are developing cost-effective, recyclable sorbents to remove lead from drinking water, a critical public health issue in Flint, Michigan, and other communities. They are also designing a technique to deliver drugs through the impermeable blood-brain barrier by creating nano-droplets that expand upon ultrasound-directed evaporation of the droplet material. This evaporation expands the blood vessels along the blood-brain barrier and enables administration of drug molecules.
Somasundaran resides in Piermont where has served in various roles for the village government.