UH Researcher Recognized for Work in Crystal Engineering

Jeffrey Rimer’s Research Has Applications in Both Energy and Health Care

Jeff Rimer
Jeffrey Rimer has received the 2016 Owens Corning Early Career Award.

A University of Houston chemical engineer has received the 2016 Owens Corning Early Career Award in recognition of his contributions to materials science and engineering.

Jeffrey Rimer, Ernest J. and Barbara M. Henley Associate Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, received the award earlier this month from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). It will be formally presented at the AIChE annual meeting in November.

Rimer, who has been at UH since 2009, said the award is exciting recognition for work done by his lab, including the undergraduate and graduate students and post-doctoral researchers who work there. Although he has received a number of nationally competitive research grants and University awards – including a 2015 UH teaching excellence award – he said this is the first national award to recognize the work of his lab, the Rimer Group.

“It’s fair to say this is not my award. It’s for my group,” he said. “I view it as a team award.”

Joseph Tedesco, dean of the Cullen College of Engineering, said Rimer’s role with students is an important aspect of his work.

“Dr. Rimer is known around the world for his impactful research, but at the UH Cullen College of Engineering he's equally well-known for his innovative teaching style and dedication to his students,” Tedesco said. “From helping UH students commercialize his inventions to inviting undergraduates to conduct research in his laboratory, Dr. Rimer has always gone above and beyond expectations to enhance the education of his students."

Rimer’s biomedical research is focused on pathological crystallization, which is important in both malaria and the development of kidney stones. A better understanding of crystallization, including how certain drugs may inhibit crystal growth, could lead to preventive treatments or more effective therapies.

Rimer completed his Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the University of Delaware focusing on the synthesis of zeolites – nanoporous materials that can be used by the petroleum and chemicals industries to produce value-added products. Zeolites occur naturally but can also be manufactured. During a post-doctoral fellowship at New York University he began working with kidney stones, small mineral deposits that form inside the kidneys.

The Rimer Group works with both kidney stones and zeolites. “When I tell people about the breadth of applications in my research group, it may seem as though there is no common thread connecting them,” he said. “But at a fundamental level, all of my projects deal with methods to control crystal growth of different materials.”

In fact, insights from his work with kidney stones led to a breakthrough in determining how zeolites grow, as well as a new technique that allowed researchers to view zeolite surface growth in real time, the first definitive evidence of zeolite growth mechanisms. They used time-resolved solvothermal Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) to record topographical images of zeolite crystal surfaces over time, a technique that can be used at temperatures up to 100 degrees Centigrade.

The technique, described in a 2014 paper in Science, has led to increased collaborations with researchers at other institutions, Rimer said, as people consider new ways in which the AFM technique could be useful.