Process Systems Engineering

Professors Christofides, Davis, and Manousiouthakis

Low cost availability of computer software and hardware, and increased computing power have led to the ever increasing computerization and automation of manufacturing operations employing chemical engineers.  This trend permeates both established (chemical, petroleum) and developing (microelectronics, biotechnology) industries and has led to the significant growth of process systems engineering. Indeed, process modeling and simulation have become so accurate, fast and inexpensive so as to reduce reliance on plant scale-up.  The scope of process design has been expanded to include evaluation of a large number of design alternatives from economic, safety and environmental viewpoints as well as hazard and reliability analysis.  Process optimization is routinely pursued in the context of both on-line and off-line applications.  Finally, process control and automation projects have become a major vehicle for increasing plant efficiency and abnormal situation management.

UCLA Chemical Engineering has positioned itself to take advantage of the aforementioned trends.  There are several factors that bode well for this choice.  The large manufacturing base of Los Angeles with its many engineering, simulation, control and environmental design firms (e.g., Fluor, Parsons, C. F. Braun, Simulation Sciences, Profimatics, Environ); California’s forward thinking on environmental issues as it pertains to the design and control of environmentally benign plants; the strong presence of microelectronics industry in California, and UCLA’s tradition and academic recognition in the systems area.

UCLA’s efforts span the gamut of Process Systems Engineering from process modeling, simulation, design, optimization and control, to data analysis and decision support, and to computational and applied mathematics.  They have five focal points:

  1.  Fundamental studies on the theory of Process Systems Engineering.
  2. Process Systems Engineering aiming at green manufacturing.
  3. Process Systems Engineering for the microelectronics industry.
  4. Intelligent decision support systems in process operations and design.
  5. Computational modeling and simulation of complex biological systems, advanced materials processing, and fluid flows.

In the first area, studies are pursued on nonlinear and robust process control, process monitoring and identification, model reduction, optimization and control of nonlinear distributed parameters systems, hybrid control and hybrid systems, and analysis and synthesis of constrained control systems and global optimization of nonconvex nonlinear programs.  Green manufacturing studies include the synthesis of thermodynamically feasible reaction clusters; the synthesis of molecules with environmentally benign properties; the design of energy efficient distillation networks; the development of heat and mass integration techniques and the integration of process design and control.

The microelectronics research focuses on the development of comprehensive and simplified models for the simulation, design and control of plasma reactors, rapid thermal processing systems, chemical vapor deposition reactors and crystal growth processes. In the intelligent systems area, studies are directed toward the development, application, and integration of knowledge-based and neural reasoning techniques into data analysis and decision support systems. Finally, research also focuses on computational modeling and simulation of complex biological systems, and dynamics and control of fluid flows for drag reduction in aerospace vehicles.
The above research activities are supported from a variety of governmental and industrial sources. Research assistantships are available from various sources including NSF, ONR NASA, EPRI, PRF AND AFOSR. Industrial internships, from a three to six month period, from engineering companies as well as internships at US Air Force research labs are available.

In addition to books and numerous publications in high-quality journals, the research activities of the UCLA group have been recognized by numerous national and international awards, and the consistent placement of doctoral graduates in faculty positions in highly-ranked chemical engineering departments in the United States and abroad. UCLA’s group is widely regarded today as one of the leading Process Systems Engineering groups in the world.