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NSF Honors MSU Faculty Member with National CAREER Award

April 19, 2018

Neeraj Rai (Photo by Diane Godwin)
STARKVILLE, Miss.—A Mississippi State chemical engineering expert is receiving a prestigious CAREER award from the National Science Foundation.

The NSF is recognizing Neeraj Rai, an assistant professor in MSU’s Dave C. Swalm School of Chemical Engineering, with the nationally renowned Faculty Career Development Award for his work in developing efficient catalysts and processes that convert biomass into chemicals, fuels and other sustainable materials. The honor includes more than $500,000 in funding to support research expenses over a five-year period from the Catalysis program in the National Science Foundation’s Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems division.

David Shaw, MSU’s vice president for research and economic development, commended Rai for his research contributions on the state and national levels.

“Dr. Rai’s molecular-level work of creating sustainable bioenergy to produce plant-derived fuels to meet society’s future energy needs is of great importance to Mississippi and the United States,” Shaw said. “We’re extremely proud of his innovative approaches to research and appreciate the NSF recognizing his work at the national level.”

This is the second national-level win for Rai in the past eight months. The Department of Energy also honored Rai with the DOE Early Career Award, making him among the select few who have earned the nation’s two most prominent awards for early career scientists. Rai also is the first researcher in Mississippi honored with these two accolades.

“The most gratifying part of receiving these awards is the realization that your research ideas are well received by top researchers in the field. As our research is computationally demanding, working with MSU’s High Performance Computing Collaboratory puts me in the position to conduct research using one of the fastest supercomputers at an academic institute in the nation,” Rai said. “With cutting-edge computing resources and outstanding graduate and undergraduate researchers, we aim to solve difficult problems and create new technologies that are efficient and economically viable to convert complex biomass into carbon-neutral products.”

The NSF website states that the “Faculty Early Career Development Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.” 

This award provides support for the project titled “CAREER: First Principles Modeling of Solvothermal and Coverage Effects for Selective Deoxygenation on Transition Metal Catalysts.” In addition to performing research, Rai will use this support to develop comprehensive K-12 educational outreach targeted at attracting and improving retention of underrepresented groups in STEM fields.

“Dr. Rai is developing an impressive research program that offers us incredible insights into molecular-level chemical processes. It truly is cutting-edge work that has several broad impacts on our society,” said Jason Keith, dean and professor of the Bagley College of Engineering. “Earning this NSF award is a major achievement and is clear evidence that other acclaimed scientists consider Dr. Rai’s research to hold tremendous promise.”

Rai joined the Dave C. Swalm School of Chemical Engineering in MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering in 2013. He also is a faculty member in MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems.

Before joining MSU, Rai was a postdoctoral research associate at the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation, a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center at the University of Delaware. He conducted postdoctoral research in the chemical and biomolecular engineering department at the University of Notre Dame. He obtained his doctoral degree in chemical physics from the University of Minnesota and his bachelor’s in chemical engineering from Karnataka Regional Engineering College, presently known as the National Institute of Technology in Karnataka, India.

For more on MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering, visit www.bagley.msstate.edu. For more information on MSU’s HPC2, visit www.hpc.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.