ChBE’s Eckert Graduates 100th Ph.D. Student

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In June, Charles “Chuck” Eckert celebrated a milestone in his teaching career — he graduated his 100th Ph.D. student, Jackson Switzer.

“The best part of teaching has always been the students,” said Eckert, who is Professor and J. Erskine Love Jr. Institute Chair in Engineering in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE). “I get such a kick out of receiving emails from former students who are now professors, telling me where they are and what they are doing.”

And just because Eckert hit 100, doesn’t mean he’s retiring. There are more students in the pipeline. The lab that Eckert runs with Charles Liotta, Regents Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, is currently home to about nine post doctoral students, six graduate students, and nine undergraduate students. 

“Whether it’s in the lab or classroom, I try to give my students permission to be wrong — I want them to be OK with making mistakes and learning from them,” Eckert said. “I want to give them confidence to challenge me when they think I might be wrong.”

Recently, The Whistle had a chance to learn more about Eckert and his time at Georgia Tech.

What brought you to Tech?      
Before Tech, I spent 24 years at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where I worked my way up through the faculty ranks to become department head. Collaboration across departments was a big no-no at this institution, which was a problem, because I thrive on this sort of interaction. I met Charlie 30 years ago when we were both consulting for DuPont, and we felt that if we could ever collaborate, we could do a lot more. When I met Ron Rousseau, the former department chair, in the late 1980s, he asked me to come work with him and collaborate with Charlie. At the time, Tech was one of the few institutions that supported collaboration. It was like coming to heaven.      

Tell us about your research.     
Our group’s research is focused on the interface between chemistry and chemical engineering, where our interdisciplinary investigators have unique capabilities to solve a variety of important technical and societal problems, such as environmental control and energy conservation. Examples of applications include wastewater purification and hazardous waste detoxification.

What is an average day like for you?
Each week, I teach a graduate-level thermodynamics course. I also spend time assisting with the logistics of an introductory class for new graduate students that I co-created with Professor Dennis Hess to prepare them for doing research. For example, we cover how to critique a paper and give a presentation. Although I’m no longer taking on new Ph.D. students, I also spend time in the lab working with the students that Charlie and I currently mentor.     

What do you think of massive open online courses (MOOCs)?  
To be honest, I’m too near the end of my career to invest the time in creating a MOOC and teaching it. Also, I’m not sure how a chemical engineering course could effectively be taught in this format. Not only does lab work become challenging, but it’s tough to do any one-on-one mentoring, which is one of the most satisfying parts of the job for me.

What is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken, and did it pay off?      
It was coming to Tech. I was 50 years old and starting over in a department that didn’t have the best reputation at the time. But I couldn’t be happier that I did it.

Where is your favorite spot to have lunch?     
In my office with my colleagues. Everyone brings a brown bag, and we share a pot of coffee. It’s one of my favorite times of the day.

What do you do in your spare time?      
I play bridge, and I like to cook. I spent some time in Paris when I was a post doctoral fellow. I picked up a few tricks while taking classes and cooking with friends. Although it’s not French, I can make a mean osso buco.

Tell us something unique about yourself.      
I am the only child of only children. I have no siblings, no aunts and uncles, and no cousins. But my wife has a huge family. Marrying her was one of the happiest days of my life, partially because I’d always wanted to be a part of a big family.



  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Amelia Pavlik
  • Created: 09/03/2013
  • Modified By: Fletcher Moore
  • Modified: 10/07/2016

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