Neeraj Rai

Indian American assistant professor at Mississippi State University Neeraj Rai was given a $750,000 Early Career award by the U.S. Energy Department. (msstate.edu photo)

Indian American assistant professor at Mississippi State University Neeraj Rai received an Early Career research award from the U.S. Department of Energy's science office.

Rai, a professor of chemical engineering, in addition to the award, will receive $750,000 in research funding, the university said in an Aug. 28 news release.

Rai, whose current research project “Probing Condensed-Phase Structure and Dynamics in Hierarchical Zeolites and Nanosheets for Catalytic Upgradation of Biomass” is one of 38 selected for funding from academic institutions nationwide, was among 59 scientists in the U.S. selected for the award.

The funding award is to support research expenses over a five-year period, the university said.

The professor's goal is to develop advanced computational frameworks for understanding chemical and physical processes at the molecular level and to design novel materials for meeting the nation’s future energy needs, according to the university.

Rai said current chemical processes have been designed and perfected over the last century primarily to process hydrocarbon based feedstock.

“However, it is a significant challenge to convert biomass into fuels and chemicals due to significant oxygen content. So, we have to create new technologies that are efficient and economically viable to convert complex biomass into carbon neutral products,” Rai said in the news release.

“We’re very proud of Dr. Rai’s achievements and contributions to Mississippi State’s research community,” said David Shaw, MSU’s vice president for research and economic development, in a statement.

Rai joined the Dave C. Swalm School of Chemical Engineering in MSU’s Bagley College of Engineering in 2013.

The computational tools Rai continues to develop at MSU’s High Performance Computing Collaboratory will give molecular-level insight into how to separate and break down lignin and cellulose biopolymers to produce plant derived fuels that can meet future energy needs in a more sustainable manner, the university said.

Added Bagley College dean and Prof. Jason Keith, “Dr. Rai’s research expertise in molecular-level chemical processes has several broad impacts to our society. I am proud to see his transformative work recognized with such a prestigious award.”

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 also 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.

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