To truly develop a sustainable future, we need... to facilitate genuinely sustainable systems.
Going Green: ChBE Alumna Ezinne Achinivu pushes sustainable engineering at the University of Illinois.
At a young age, Ezinne Achinivu, an alumna of chemical engineering at the University of Maryland (UMD), pledged to use science to solve societal problems, in particular, those affecting human health and the environment.
“Even as a child, it seemed that many large corporations were so focused on economics that they ignored the environmental impacts their technology had on surrounding communities,” said Achinivu. “Such behavior yields a terribly unbalanced ecosystem and the results are manifested in climate change, social justice, resource equity and human health, to name a few. To truly develop a sustainable future, we need all three pillars of sustainability to be aligned – the Economic, Social and Environmental ‘spheres’ can all be optimized to facilitate genuinely sustainable systems.”
Achinivu, who grew up in Nigeria, moved to the U.S. after she finished high school. Although she always excelled in math and chemistry, she gravitated towards engineering due to the applied nature of the field.
“When I arrived at Maryland, I knew I loved working in the lab, but it was Prof. Sheryl Ehrman who gave me my first research opportunity and exposure to working in an academic setting,” Achinivu said. “This solidified my desire to develop a career focused on R&D engineering.”
She received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from UMD in 2010. From there, Achinivu transferred to North Carolina State University where she received both her master’s degree (2012) and Ph.D. (2014) in chemical and biomolecular engineering. It was during that time that she began working on bioconversion, by processing waste into environmentally friendly products (such as transportation fuels).
Post-commencement, Achinivu worked for a startup called 525 Solutions, which focused on developing proprietary, broad-based ionic liquid technologies primarily for medicinal and pharmaceutical applications. After that, she travelled to France to conduct a Fulbright fellowship at Chaire ABI AgroParisTech, which was dedicated to the sustainable production of high value-added bio-based chemicals, such as biopolymers, functional additives for food/feed, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics.
After returning to the U.S., Achinivu took a postdoctoral opportunity at the Joint Bioenergy Institute (JBEI), working with Sandia National and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, to develop advanced biofuels. Then, she participated in an AAAS Science Technology Policy Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.
“All of these experiences were the building blocks that helped make me a better scientist and academic – I’m now equipped and ready to tackle the challenges our society faces in advancing sustainable energy technologies,” said Achinivu. She recently joined the chemical engineering faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she hopes to teach classes on bioprocessing and sustainable energy while ensuring that students from all backgrounds have equal access to education.
So, do you have any advice for current and incoming ChemE students at UMD?
Absolutely. Chemical Engineering is one of the most challenging degrees you can get as an undergrad, but is also one of the most rewarding. It is a respected foundation that can lead to many careers in healthcare, business, arts and science. Therefore, it is absolutely worth the sacrifice of time and effort. During your tenure as an undergrad, focus on maximizing the university resources, so that you can attain as much as possible from the instructors, research labs, library, technology, etc.