Pablo G. Debenedetti - Professor in Engineering and Applied Science - Princeton University
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Biographical Sketch

Pablo Debenedetti is Dean for Research, Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science, and Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Princeton University. He obtained his B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering from Buenos Aires University, Argentina, in 1978, and M.S. (1981) and Ph.D. (1985) degrees, also in Chemical Engineering, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From 1978 to 1980 he was Process Development Engineer with O. de Nora, Impianti Elettrochimici, Milan, Italy.

His research interests include the thermodynamics and statistical mechanics of liquids, liquid mixtures and glasses, especially water and aqueous solutions; protein thermodynamics; nucleation theory; metastable liquids, especially supercooled liquids; the theory of hydrophobicity; and the origin of biological homochirality. He has written one book, Metastable Liquids. Concepts and Principles (Princeton, 1996), and authored or co-authored more than 300 scientific and technical articles.

Research in Pablo Debenedetti's group has helped define the current state of basic knowledge on the properties of metastable liquids and glasses, in particular water, and brought this vast field to the mainstream of chemical engineering thermodynamics. In addition to the intrinsic value of an improved understanding of the liquid state of matter, the implications of this work include the formulation and preservation of pharmaceutical products; the prevention of vapor explosions in the cryogenic, metals processing, and paper industries; the inhibition of clathrate hydrate formation in natural gas pipelines; life at low temperatures; the properties of comets; and the stability of proteins at extremes of pressure and temperature. By applying chemical engineering thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and molecular simulation, his group

  • developed the first microscopic theory of liquid-liquid immiscibility in single-component fluids (62, 76)
  • provided the first direct evidence, by molecular simulation of phase coexistence, of liquid-liquid immiscibility in a pure substance (66, 76) (with A.Z. Panagiotopoulos)
  • obtained experimental confirmation and provided a concurrent thermodynamic explanation of continuity between liquid and glassy water (60) (with R.J. Speedy and B.D. Kay)
  • obtained the first direct evidence, from molecular simulation, of the connection between the dynamics of a glass-forming liquid and its potential energy surface (energy landscape) (74, 94) (with F.H. Stillinger)
  • developed the statistical mechanical formalism of fluids under constraints, that enables the rigorous theoretical and computational treatment of liquids outside their normal range of stability (67) (with F.H. Stillinger)
  • developed the first exact method for calculating void volume, surface area and connectivity in sphere packings, with applications to the characterization of disordered materials, flow through porous media, protein solvation, and the thermodynamics of hard spheres (69)
  • developed a theory of associating fluids that reproduces the salient thermodynamic anomalies of liquid water (87) (with S. Torquato) and the thermodynamic signatures of hydrophobic hydration (109)
  • developed new analytical methods for the quantification of disorder in materials (96, 97, 119) (with S. Torquato)
  • developed the concept of an energy landscape’s equation of state (91, 120) (with F.H. Stillinger and F.Sciortino)
  • demonstrated scaling behavior in the energetics of bubble nucleation (104)
  • derived a fully kinetic theory of bubble nucleation (118)
  • derived the relationship between the Kauzmann and spinodal curves of a metastable liquid (70, 91) (with F.H. Stillinger)
  • demonstrated the relationship between structural order and the anomalies of liquid water (102,144)
  • derived the first statistical mechanical model of inverse melting (123) (with F.H. Stillinger)
  • extended the energy landscape formalism to saddles (131)
  • derived a new expression for the diffusion coefficient and applied this new formalism to the study of dynamic heterogeneity in supercooled liquids (142,147,148) (with F.H. Stillinger)
  • performed the first simultaneous measurements of structural and thermodynamic effects of carbohydrates on the stability of proteins (137) (with J.D. Carbeck)
  • performed the first theoretical investigation of the phase behavior of mixtures in which one component can have more than one critical point (153)
  • preformed the first comprehensive computational investigation of the effects of pressure, temperature, and surface heterogeneity on the structure, dynamics, and thermodynamics of water in nano-scale confinement (152, 160, 163, 168, 171, 172, 173, 176, 177, 179, 198) (with P.J. Rossky)
  • preformed the first computational investigation of metastable criticality in supercooled water using state-of-the-art histogram reweighting and finite size scaling methods (180) (with A.Z. Panagiotopoulos)
  • proposed a water-explicit lattice model of a protein that exhibits heat-, cold-, and pressure-induced unfolding, and evolved stable sequences in-silico (165, 170) (with F.H. Stillinger and P.J. Rossky)
  • demonstrated water-like solvation thermodynamics including cold-, pressure-, and heat-induced unfolding of hydrophobic polymers, in a spherically-symmetric model solvent with two characteristic length scales (167) (with S.V. Buldyrev, P.J. Rossky and H.E. Stanley)
  • accurately computed the solubility of n-alkanes up to C22 in water using state-of-the-art replica exchange methods (175) (with A.Z. Panagiotopoulos)
  • formulated statistical mechanical models that provide plausible physical mechanisms to understand the origin of biological homochirality (174, 184, 210) (with F.H. Stillinger)
  • formulated a microscopic model that explains experimental observations on attrition-enhanced chiral symmetry breaking (218) (with F.H. Stillinger)
  • performed computational studies and explicit calculations of the rate of evaporation of water in hydrophobic confinement, and of the corresponding free energy barriers (199, 208,252)
  • elucidated the effects of substrate flexibility on the thermodynamics and kinetics of evaporation transitions of water in nano-scale hydrophobic confinement (226, 252)
  • introduced powerful algorithms for the molecular-based calculation of protein water adsorption isotherms (206, 230)
  • provided conclusive evidence of the existence of a metastable liquid-liquid transition in a molecular model of water (216, 219, 221, 240, 242, 263, 267, 274) (with R. Car and A.Z. Panagiotopoulos)
  • performed the first direct calculation via molecular simulation of the rate of ice formation in deeply supercooled water (235)
  • proposed a neural network-based approach for predicting anti-freeze protein activity (269) (with F. H. Stillinger)
  • explored computationally the effects of chiral inversions on protein folding (266,272) (with F. H. Stillinger)

In the area of supercritical fluids, his group

  • was the first to use supercritical fluids to obtain biologically-active protein powders suitable for direct delivery to the lungs (39, 50, 58, 68, 84)
  • demonstrated the potential of supercritical fluids as a medium for the formation of particulates in the pharmaceutical industry (33, 34)
  • performed the first molecular simulation studies of solvation in supercritical fluids (24)
  • provided the first direct comparison between simulations and spectroscopic measurements of local density augmentations in supercritical systems (book chapters 5)
  • developed the widely used attractive/weakly attractive/repulsive classification for dilute supercritical mixtures (29)
  • predicted (22), and confirmed by simulation (24) and integral equation calculations (44), the formation of long-ranged correlation holes around repulsive solutes
  • developed a mathematical description of mass transfer in the supercritical anti-solvent (SAS) process (92, 99, 123)

He is the recipient of the Presidential Young Investigator (National Science Foundation, 1987) and Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar (1989) awards, a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1991), the Professional Progress Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (1997), the John M. Prausnitz Award in Applied Chemical Thermodynamics (2001), the Joel Henry Hildebrand Award in the Theoretical and Experimental Chemistry of Liquids from the American Chemical Society (2008), the William H. Walker Award for Excellence in Contributions to the Chemical Engineering Literature from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (2008), the Institute Lectureship (American Institute of Chemical Engineers, 2013), the Benjamin Garver Lamme Award from the American Society of Engineering Education (2014), the Guggenheim Medal from the Institution of Chemical Engineers (UK, 2017), and the Alpha Chi Sigma Award for Chemical Engineering Research from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (2019). In 2008, on the occasion of the Centennial Celebration on the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, he was named one of the 100 Chemical Engineers of the Modern Era. Metastable Liquids (1996) was named “best scholarly/professional book in Chemistry” by the Association of American Publishers.

Debenedetti is the recipient of the Distinguished Teacher Award from Princeton's School of Engineering and Applied Science (2008), the President's Award for Distinguished Teaching (2008), Princeton's highest honor for teaching, and the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award (2016). He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and the American Physical Society.

* Numbers in parenthesis refer to articles in the chronological bibliography

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