Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Fred Strohl (strohlhf@ornl.gov)
Communications and External Relations


ORNL/UT Scientist Selected for Top National Chemical Engineering Honor

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 17, 1998 — Peter Cummings, a Distinguished Scientist with the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and The University of Tennessee, has been selected by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers to receive the 1998 Alpha Chi Sigma Award for Chemical Engineering Research.

"We are deeply gratified that our leading professional organization, has seen fit to honor Peter's work with its premier research award," said UTK Chemical Engineering Professor John Prados, who nominated Cummings for the award.

The award, consisting of a plaque and $5000, will be presented at the annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Honors Luncheon in Miami Beach, FL, on Monday, November 16. In addition, a symposium in honor of the 1998 Alpha Chi Sigma awardee will be held at 1999 annual AIChE meeting in Dallas, TX.

"Peter's contributions have been truly remarkable; broad, deep, and of enduring significance," Prados said.

"Perhaps his most powerful contribution has been to see connections between different fields that others do not see and to implement them using a combination of scientific insight, mathematical sophistication, and computational science that is exceedingly rare in a single individual," he said.

Cummings develops computer-based modeling methods for a wide variety of systems. In much of his work, the goal is to understand how the shape and chemical composition of the molecules, and the way in which they interact with each other, ultimately affect the performance of a gas, liquid or solid composed of the molecules. He is specifically interested in understanding why some liquids are better lubricants than others, how very-high-temperature water can be used to dissolve and help destroy toxic compounds, and how the structure of proteins can be determined just from knowing their constituents. Additionally, he has applied his expertise in other areas of chemical engineering, such as designing better chemical plants and understanding the processes involved in cleaning up contaminated groundwater.

Cummings is also well-known for applying visualization techniques to his research. The result is a collection of illustrative videos, such as those depicting flowing lubricant molecules between two moving surfaces, the behavior of water molecules at high temperatures and pressures before and after the introduction of ions into the solution, and the movement of bacteria through sand saturated with water.

The calculations he performs in his research frequently require the use of enormously powerful parallel supercomputers, such as those located in the ORNL Center for Computational Sciences and at The University of Tennessee.

Cummings' methods target computer-based molecular design, which has extraordinary potential for lowering manufacturers' production costs. If designers can first evaluate and predict how new materials will perform in practice, they can save manufacturers the expensive process of repeated experimental materials synthesis.

A member of the UT / ORNL Science Alliance's Distinguished Scientist Program since 1994, Cummings holds a joint appointment in the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory Chemical Technology Division and The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Chemical Engineering Department. A U.S. citizen since 1995, Cummings was born and educated in Australia at the University of Newcastle (undergraduate) and University of Melbourne (graduate). He came to the Knoxville-Oak Ridge area from Charlottesville, VA, where he was previously a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Virginia from 1983 to 1993.

The Alpha Chi Sigma Award recognizes chemical engineering research accomplishments over the last ten years, primarily in North America. The Alpha Chi Sigma Fraternity, the national coeducational professional chemistry fraternity established in 1902 at the University of Wisconsin, presented the first such award in 1966.

The Science Alliance is a Center of Excellence created in 1984 to increase collaboration between UTK and ORNL and to improve selected UTK science programs. The UT / ORNL Distinguished Scientist Program is its cornerstone program.

ORNL is a multipurpose national laboratory managed for DOE by Lockheed-Martin Energy Research Corporation.