Today, more than 12 million Americans are plagued by food allergies, and each year, these allergies are the cause of over 300,000 ambulatory-care visits by children alone. With no known cure, people with food allergies must avoid even trace amounts of a food allergen in order to avoid a potentially deadly response. And not surprisingly, most people who have had an allergic response ate something that they believed was “safe.”
Professor of Chemical Engineering Ian Suni and his team want to reduce the number of allergic responses to food allergens, and are researching portable sensor technologies for food allergen detection. His research has been published in a number of journals, including the Journal of Electrochemical Society, Sensors and Actuators, and Analytical Chemistry.
“We are developing technology that will allow people with food allergies to detect food allergens, such as peanut proteins, even when they are embedded within a complex mixture, like a soup or a piece of chocolate, that contains a variety of possibly interfering species,” says Suni.
While currently Suni’s research is academic, his research could be translated into consumer devices to detect these unexpected food allergens in the near future. “The development of commercial devices that can detect food allergens has been prevented in the past because of the complex food matrices,” he explains. “We’re addressing that problem to make the idea of these devices more achievable.”
Suni, whose research interests span a wide variety of topics, is also researching electrochemical methods for depositing photovoltaic thin films .
He says, “Photovoltaic materials are the critical component of solar cells, since they absorb protons and convert them into electron-hole pairs, which can then be collected as a voltage or current. Electrochemical methods are likely the lowest cost technology to grow photovoltaic thin films. .”
Suni came to Clarkson in 1993 after receiving his Ph.D. in chemistry from Harvard University and conducting postdoctoral research at the University of Illinois. While at Clarkson, he has taught courses in thermodynamics, biochemical engineering, corrosion engineering and materials science and engineering. In 2010, he was named Director of Clarkson’s new Ph.D. program in materials science and engineering.
“We hope to have a nationally recognized and ranked program within the next decade,” he says. “Our materials research has long been recognized for its quality, but until recently we did not have corresponding graduate or undergraduate programs.”
Suni’s bread and butter course is Materials Science and Engineering I, where he stresses to his students the applications of materials science and engineering to a wide variety of modern technologies, including semiconductor devices, solar energy, and biosensors.
“Chemical engineering is all about real-world problem solving, where we can make some impact,” he says. “That’s what interested me in the first place and that’s what I try to relay to my students.”
Chemical Engineering Faculty Member Ian Suni