Meet the Chair
Professor Umit Ozkan was appointed as the eighth chair of the William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering on June 1, 2019. This is the first time the department has had a woman at the helm in its 120+ year history.
Ozkan grew up in Ankara, Turkey as the youngest of three daughters in a middle-income family. She remembers the love of education that her parents instilled in her and their encouragement to pursue new horizons. And that is what she did, when at the age of 13, she enrolled as a boarding student, in Istanbul Robert College, which was founded in 1863 as the first American School outside the U.S. borders.
At Robert College she was immersed in the English language, exposed to American culture and was involved in many extra-curricular activities, including editing the school newspaper. But her real passion, she found, was chemistry and math. She saw chemical engineering as a discipline that would allow her to combine both disciplines, and chose it as her major.
After receiving her BS and MS degrees in chemical engineering from the Middle East Technical University, the premier engineering program in Turkey, she joined the PhD program at Iowa State University. She met her husband in Ames, Iowa, “at the dating capital of the world,” she jokes. After earning her doctorate at Iowa State, she joined the faculty at The Ohio State University in 1985. She was named full professor in 1994 and became a College of Engineering Distinguished Professor in 2012.
With over 200 refereed publications, seven patents, 15 books and book chapters and a plethora of ‘firsts,’ she has been a trailblazer for women in chemical engineering. Prior to becoming the first woman to chair the William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, she was the first woman to join Ohio State’s department of chemical engineering and remained the sole female faculty member for 19 years. She also served in college administration from 2000-05 as the first female associate dean for research. In 2017 she was the first woman to receive the American Chemical Society’s Henry H. Storch Award in its 57-year history.
Professor Ozkan is also the recipient of another recent honor: In January 2019, alumnus William G. Lowrie (’66) created a named professorship in her honor. The Umit S. Ozkan Professorship provides the department with a powerful tool to help recruit and retain the highest-quality faculty.
Ozkan, a former Fulbright scholar, is an internationally- recognized expert in catalysis and electrocatalysis. She is known for her extensive contributions to the fundamentals and practical applications of catalysis in areas such as electrocatalyst development for fuel cells, oxidation catalysis, hydrogenation and hydrogenolysis, emission control, fuel reformulation and water treatment. Her research, whether it is targeting removal of aromatics from ground water or converting carbon dioxide to chemicals and fuels, has far-reaching implications that impact energy, environmental protection and the economy.
In 2013, a special volume of the premier journal Topics in Catalysis was dedicated in her honor, which included contributions from 35 research groups from 12 different countries, following a three-day ACS Symposium in celebration of the ACS Petroleum Chemistry Distinguished Researcher Award that she received in 2012. In 2019, another journal, Catalysis Today, published a special issue honoring her.
She was named a Distinguished University Professor by The Ohio State University Board of Trustees in 2021. Other honors include awards from the Van 't Hoff Institute at the University of Amsterdam (Lectureship Award, 2010), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (Mentorship Excellence, 2009), the Society of Women Engineers (Achievement Award, 2002), the Keck Foundation (Excellence in Engineering Education, 1994), Union Carbide (Innovation Award, 1991 and 1992), the French C.N.R.S. Fellowship (1994), and awards from The Ohio State University College of Engineering and her alma mater, Iowa State University.
Ozkan cites her graduate students as the source of her inspiration and motivation and says “it makes me so proud to see them develop into the successful academicians, researchers and entrepreneurs that they become."
Ozkan also takes pride in being a good teacher, as recognized by her several awards, including the College of Engineering Charles E. MacQuigg Outstanding Teaching Award that she received in 1990. “Teaching is very important to me because that is why we are here," she says. "I love to interact with students and get to know them. And there is nothing more gratifying than meeting alumni who graduate, have incredibly varied and interesting careers, and then come back and say our program made a difference in their lives. We are so fortunate to have so many outstanding alumni, who make us so very proud every day and who remain so loyal and so connected to Ohio State.”
Ozkan is excited and energized about the great potential she sees in the department. "With our outstanding faculty and dedicated staff, our strong research programs, and our undergraduate student body--which is among the best anywhere in the country--I am confident that we are poised to continue and accelerate the upward trajectory that our department has been following," she said.