New Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Richard West
The Department of Chemical Engineering welcomed Dr. Richard West in September 2011 as an assistant professor. Dr. West was attracted to Northeastern for the enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit amongst the faculty and students, impressive upward trajectory, and for its location in one of the most academic cities in the US, Boston.
Dr. Richard West received his BA and MEng degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Cambridge, UK, in 2004. He was among the first cohort to spend a year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts, under the University of Cambridge-MIT undergraduate exchange programs. He returned to MIT for a semester of core graduate courses in chemical engineering at the start of his PhD, which he was pursuing at the University of Cambridge. After completion of his doctoral degree, Dr. West returned to MIT once more, this time as a postdoctoral research associate. He worked with Prof. William Green to develop detailed kinetic models and the tools used to create them. In 2011 he moved across the river to Boston, starting the Computational Modeling in Chemical Engineering group at Northeastern University.
The current research focus of Dr. West's group is on multi-scale computational modeling with an emphasis on chemical reaction kinetics, something completely new for the Department of Chemical Engineering at Northeastern. A major thrust of the research is developing software that automatically builds predictive kinetic models for complex reacting systems. One of the current projects deals with investigation of the pyrolysis of bio-oil, and another one is about making next-generation bio-fuels. Teaching the computer to automatically locate transition states for unknown chemical reactions is also one of the present projects within the group.
Dr. West is looking for big-picture ambition and creativity in designing and steering of projects from graduate students. At the same time, he likes to help his students by not only giving overall guidance but also to help with the details. "We are all part of the same team, and I expect my students collaborate with each other and me whenever they get stuck on something", he says.
Having studied under very different academic styles at the University of Cambridge and MIT, Dr. West hopes to draw on the strengths of both systems to benefit the education of undergraduate students here at Northeastern. In addition to being in academia, Dr. West worked briefly at a large traditional oil and gas company and a small start-up innovation consultancy. He believes that in understanding how different these environments are and how chemical engineering can be applied in all of them would help him to prepare students for the huge variety of careers that lie before them upon graduating from Northeastern.
This past fall '11, Dr. West taught a graduate level course on chemical engineering thermodynamics and is looking forward to teaching undergraduate kinetics this upcoming year. In the future, he plans to develop a course on computational methods which he believes would help all research students, even those with the most experimental of the projects. As for the undergraduate program "it would be fun to teach some product and process innovation", he says.
With the focus on computational modeling, Dr. West anticipates his group working with many groups whose work is experimental. The group is already working towards proposals with the Northeastern University Center of Renewable Energy Technology (NUCRET) in the Chemistry Department on next-generation batteries, with groups in the Mechanical Engineering Department on sustainable pyrolysis processes and combustion fundamentals, and with Professors Goluch and Choi in the Department of Chemical Engineering. They are also in contact with Computer Engineering Department and continuing collaboration with MIT and ENSTA (Ecole Nationale Superieure de Techniques Avancees) ParisTech in France.
In his free time Dr. West enjoys food, photography, and music. He plays the violin in the Mercury Orchestra, the Lowell House Opera, and assorted chamber music groups. He also tries to keep up with the best of British television.