"The philosophy of this university is the same as mine. The primary focus is to educate students on many levels. This includes both classroom-based activities and research experiences with faculty. Thus, faculty also are continually developing their education and scholarship."

Diamond and graphite (pencil lead) are completely distinct substances, yet identical in their chemical make-up. The difference between them lies within the arrangement of the carbon atoms in the solid state. The same principle holds true for pharmaceuticals - as drug researchers develop new molecules, the arrangement of the molecules, as well as the size and shape of the component particles as the molecules crystallize into a solid have an enormous effect on the behavior of the resulting substance.

"If you want to have the desired product performance, you have to ensure that you design the process to engineer your material correctly," says Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Ryan Snyder.

Snyder's research focuses on developing both generalized methods to design structured products in desired ways and tools that can be used by practicing engineers to create new designs. After developing these generalized methods, he then tests those predictions experimentally on specific systems of interest. In the pharmaceutical industry, these methods can be invaluable, since the early stages of drug development are often limited by the amount of the new material that currently exists leaving the scientists with a very limited scope of experiments they can perform.

"For researchers, a common way of operating is to perform many experiments, in efforts to discover new materials or phenomenon, and then to correlate the results to an existing theory," Snyder says. "On the other hand, I usually try to create a model or theory based on the underlying physics and chemistry that will predict the results of an experiment. Then, I use that to drive the experiments I need to do in order to validate the models or provide additional insight into their direction." The end goal is more efficient and less expensive drug development.

Snyder's research has applications beyond the pharmaceutical industry as well.  New materials for solar energy also have distinct shapes. Nanomaterials (nanorods, nanospheres, etc.) of a variety of materials are being developed to harvest the sun's energy.  In these situations just as in pharmaceuticals, the size and shape of the resulting particles lead to different performance of the resulting solar cells.

"The shape of the particle ends up giving you a difference in performance," Snyder says. "And even small differences are greatly magnified when compared to the overwhelming energy challenge our society faces today."

After working for a year at pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly to gain firsthand insights to the drug development process, Snyder is excited about teaching at Bucknell. "The philosophy of this university is the same as mine," he says. "The primary focus is to educate students on many levels. This includes both classroom-based activities and research experiences with faculty. Thus, faculty also are continually developing their education and scholarship."

Posted Sept. 22, 2009

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