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James Spivey

James Spivey

McLaurin Shivers Professor of Chemical Engineering
Cain Department of Chemical Engineering
College of Engineering

What was your previous position and where?

I was previously in the chemical engineering department at N.C. State.

What brought you to LSU?

I am fairly new to academia. I joined N.C. State in 2000 and came to LSU in 2003. Before that, I had worked 20 years in North Carolina at a contract research organization where I managed a group of engineers and scientists. While I was there, I often worked with universities and was drawn to the opportunity to really focus on research and to work with students. When I was looking for an academic position, LSU appealed to me because I had lived in Baton Rouge in the 1970s. After I finished bachelor's and master's degrees at N.C. State, I worked at Ethyl Corporation, now Albermarle, in Baton Rouge. I took courses to get my Ph.D. in chemical engineering at LSU while working full time at Ethyl for four to five years. For one academic year, I worked half time at Ethyl and went to school full time to satisfy my residency requirement. I then moved back to North Carolina before coming to LSU in 2003. LSU specifically appealed to me since I knew the department, I liked the area and LSU had a better football team. I did notice that immediately after I moved here, LSU won a national championship.

What is your research interest?

My research interest is in catalysis for clean energy — to develop catalytic materials for a more efficient means of producing energy. I think most people have no real idea how energy affects everything they do — heating/cooling their homes and traveling are obvious examples. But everything we buy or sell or do has an energy “content” — the food we buy at the grocery must be transported, the clothes we wear required energy to make and bring to the store.

What do you hope to accomplish at LSU?

Recently, LSU was awarded a Department of Energy Frontier Research Center that I direct. It involves nine institutions, including LSU. The five-year award total is $20 million, with $12.5 million coming from the Department of Energy, $940,000 coming from the Louisiana Board of Regents and the remaining money coming through a cost sharing among the nine institutions. My primary responsibility is managing that center.

Through the center, I hope that we can develop new tools that would allow us to simulate catalytic reactions on a computer with atomic level precision, prepare materials with that same precision and then validate that information. We want to develop a seamless process from computer to lab. Every step in the sequence has two types of limitations. The first limitation is a scientific one. For example, there are limits to what a computer can simulate. But, the most important limitation is cultural. The researchers who do the computations don't do synthesis, and the people who do synthesis don't do computation. I am trying to help bridge the scientific and cultural gaps.

What do you enjoy most about LSU?

The primary thing that I enjoy is academic freedom. I'm free to develop my own job security and my own research. I can do any type of research if I can find someone to pay for it, which is also, of course, the challenge. However, I believe that if you can develop a good idea and communicate it to others, you will never lack for work. And, that's what I'm trying to do.

What are your major accomplishments?

Since I've been at LSU, the award of that center is my biggest accomplishment by far. At the time that it was awarded, I was told that it was the largest single award in LSU's history. Now my job is to make it work.


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