Research in Chemical and Biological Engineering

Innovative research is the heart of the graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. CBE researchers address the most pressing challenges facing society today by developing approaches to sustainably produce new fuels and chemicalscombat the plastic pollution crisiscreate new therapeutic molecules and materialsoptimize our energy infrastructurecomputationally design new materials and chemical processesunderstand transport in complex environmentsengineer bacteria to produce biofuels, and more. Read about the latest advances in CBE research here.

Research Areas

Department research activities are broadly divided into the four research focus areas as listed below. Each area encompasses multiple core faculty and affiliate faculty (faculty who are primarily associated with other departments but advise CBE graduate students). Faculty research interests are highly interdisciplinary; consequently, most faculty have interests that span multiple areas.  Click here for a one-page summary of faculty and their research interests.

Collaborative and Interdisciplinary Research

Research in CBE is highly collaborative and often involves diverse teams of researchers from within the department, across campus, at other campuses, and in industry. Several faculty members are also affiliated with other departments and programs across campus, including Biomedical Engineering, the Biophysics Program, Chemistry, Engineering Physics, Materials Science and Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, the Microbiology Doctoral Training Program, Neurological Surgery, the Wisconsin Energy Institute, and the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, which promotes interdisciplinary research collaborations.

To illustrate the extent to which collaboration is encouraged in the department, the image below highlights a graph of ongoing research collaborations between core and affiliate faculty.


graph of CBE collaboration

Numerous CBE faculty and students actively collaborate with researchers in industry. CBE students also frequently participate in industrial internships. Example companies with whom CBE faculty collaborate include:

  • 3M
  • Amcor
  • Eastman Chemical
  • ExxonMobil
  • Johnson Controls
  • PPG

Entrepreneurship is another key aspect of CBE research activities, supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Fund and campus resources such as Discovery to Product, the WARF Accelerator program, the Morgridge Entrepreneurial Bootcamp, and gBETA Madison. CBE faculty and students have also launched successful start-up companies as detailed below.

CBE researchers lead or are members of numerous research centers to maximize opportunities for collaborative breakthroughs. Recent centers led by CBE faculty include the Center for the Chemical Upcycling of Waste Plastics and the Center for Cell Manufacturing Technologies. Other major research centers that collaborate with or include CBE faculty are the Center for Dairy Research, Forest Products Laboratory, Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, UW Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center, UW Carbone Cancer Center, Wisconsin Energy Institute, and the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

CBE graduate students also benefit from numerous training programs that unite students from a range of scientific backgrounds. These programs promote interdisciplinary training in the biological aspects of biotechnology and provide valuable experience through an industrial internship. Current training programs include:


The department office and most faculty offices and labs are concentrated in Engineering Hall.

Research labs are equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation for studies in rheology, electrochemistry, polymer science, biotechnology, solid-state chemistry, surface chemistry and catalysis, chromatography, process control and reaction engineering. Modern electronics and computers are used for data acquisition and control of experiments.

Many facilities are available for research in solid-state chemistry, surface science and catalysis, including Auger electron, Mössbauer, X-ray and ultraviolet photoelectron, FTIR and laser Raman spectroscopies as well as microcalorimetry and various solid-state laser spectroscopies. A solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer is used to characterize catalysts, polymers and other materials.

Research in polymers and materials uses techniques such as atomic force microscopy, X-ray scattering, melt rheometry and dynamic mechanical spectroscopy. Extensive facilities are available for studies in polymerization reaction engineering.

Department instruments are supplemented by other campus research facilities, such as scanning and transmission electron microscopes, high-resolution mass spectrometers and controlled environment chambers.

Our biotechnology facilities include labs for static and dynamic light scattering, spectrofluorimetry, radiochemical analysis, protein purification and cell culture. The Biotechnology Center provides a variety of facilities for biochemical engineering research, including DNA sequencing, oligonucleotide synthesis, protein sequencing, peptide synthesis, protein purification and monoclonal antibody production. A new state-of-the-art Biophysics Instrumentation Facility houses biochemistry and microscopy instrumentation.

The department’s teaching labs are equipped to support undergraduate courses in transport phenomena, unit operations, process dynamics and control, electrochemistry, polymer science, chromatography, biochemical engineering, catalyst development and instrumental analysis. The UW-Madison Libraries rank as one of the leading research collections in North America. Kurt F. Wendt Commons has an extensive collection and information services covering all branches of engineering, computer science, and statistics.

Computing facilities on campus and in the department are excellent. A full-time computer specialist maintains the department’s computing facilities and serves as a hardware and software consultant to research groups. The Computer-aided Engineering center provides a variety of computers for general use. The Division of Information Technology, serving the campus, offers consulting services, short courses, graphics and plotting capabilities and a library of user-oriented programs.

Department machine and electronics shops aid the design, construction and repair of research equipment.