Problem-solving should be done with a guide. I look at myself not as a teacher, but as a guide.

William Snyder

If oil suddenly stopped flowing from one of the North Slope pipelines or fire trucks couldn’t pump water at a certain velocity, Professor William Snyder, chemical engineering, might know why. His current research involves fluid flow rates, thermodynamics and polymer solution systems that produce quality drag reduction based on certain thermodynamic properties.

Drag reduction is used to move fluid, and Snyder hopes to discover a correlation method of testing polymers that will enable chemical engineers to predict the performance of polymers in drag reduction. “They’ve always seemed like two distinct areas of research, but there is a possibility the two might come together,” he says.

To calculate drag reduction, Snyder attaches a pipe to a pressurized tank full of a polymer solution and measures flow rate and pressure loss. His analysis includes test results that students have collected over the years. “The secret is in the engineering and putting the pieces together to solve the problem, ” he says.

Measuring sound velocity, a thermodynamic property, in polymer systems could provide the information that would allow engineers to predict the performance of the polymer, according to Snyder. “It’s a way of testing the polymer, and it’s my unifying theory, as Einstein said — to unify my two worlds to see if they come together. I’ve been working on this since 1985,” he says. “I’ve done all the experimental work, and now I have to find a correlating theory.”

Snyder began teaching at Bucknell in 1968, when classroom experiences were lecture based. Over the years, he adapted his teaching style to create more opportunities for students to solve difficult problems in class. “It emphasizes active learning. In engineering, you always want to know how your systems are working, and you do that in part by solving problems,” he says. “Problem-solving should be done with a guide. I look at myself not as a teacher, but as a guide.”