Robert K. Prud'homme

Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Emeritus
Senior Scholar
Office Phone
ACE34 Engineering Quad

Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, 1978

Special Studies, Environmental Science and Public Policy, Harvard University, 1973

B.S., Stanford University, 1969



Honors and Awards

  • National Academy of Engineering, 2024
  • Fellow, National Academy of Inventors, 2022
  • AIChE Nanoscale Science and Engineering Forum (NSEF) Award, 2022
  • Inaugural Dean for Research Award for Distinguished Innovation, 2020
  • Reuel Shinnar Lecturer, CCNY, 2020
  • Thomas A. Edison Patent Award, Research and Development Council of New Jersey, 2018
  • Fellow, Society of Rheology, 2016
  • Visiting Professorship, University of Sydney, Department of Pharmacy, Summer 2013
  • Distinguished Lecturer, University of Utah, Dept. Chemical and Biological Engineering, 2012
  • Nanotechnology Lectureship, Shah-Schulman Center for Surface Science and Nanotechnology at Dharmsinh Desai University, Nadiad, India, 2011
  • Innovation Forum, Princeton Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, Second Place, 2010
  • Imperial College, London, England, Distinguished Seminar Series, 2010
  • Denish Shah Lectureship, University of Florida, 2009
  • Innovation Forum, Princeton Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education, First Place, 2009
  • President of the Society of Rheology, 2007-09
  • Merck Lectureship, University of Puerto Rico – Mayaguez, 2007
  • Visiting Professor Fellowship, University of Sydney, 2006
  • Turner Alfrey Professor, Midland Molecular Institute, 2005
  • Bird, Stewart and Lightfoot Lecturer, University of Wisconsin, 2005
  • Outstanding Teacher Award, SEAS, Princeton University, 1998
  • McCabe Lecturer, Department of Chemical Engineering, North Carolina State University, 1992
  • Sydney Ross Lectureship, RPI Department of Chemistry, 1990
  • Presidential Young Investigator, National Science Foundation, 1984

Research Interests

Our work focuses on how weak forces at the molecular level determine macroscopic properties at larger length scales. We spend equal time understanding the details of molecular-level interactions using NMR, neutron scattering, x-ray scattering, or electron microscopy and making measurements of bulk properties such as rheology, diffusion of proteins in gels, drop sizes of sprays, or pressure drop measurements in porous media. Our work is highly interdisciplinary; many of the projects involve joint advisors and collaborations with researchers at NIH, Argonne National Labs, CNRS in France, or major corporate research.

Concentrated surfactant phases. By tuning the morphology of the micelles from spheres to rods it is possible to produce tunable viscoelastic fluids that find application in oil recovery and heat transfer.

Polymer-surfactant phases. Hydrophilic polymers generally phase-separate from concentrated surfactant solutions because the polymer chain entropy opposes confinement of the chain within the small inter-lamellar spaces. By adding associating hydrophobic groups to the chain it is possible to compensate for the loss of entropy by the gain in binding free energy and thereby to make stable one-phase fluids (see figure). The structure of these systems is studied by neutron scattering. With concentrated lamellar phase systems it is possible to create shear-induced "multi-lamellar vesicles" or "onions" which are attractive as delivery vehicles for pharmaceuticals.

Vesicles and liposomes. Unilamellar vesicles, or liposomes, are also of interest in drug delivery. Hydrophobic polymers anchored on their surface protect the liposomes from fusion or create fluid gels. The attachment of several anchoring sites to a long polyethylene glycol chain produces strong attachment and protects the liposomes against recognition by the immune system. This concept of "multi-loop" anchoring has wide application to produce novel triggered delivery systems.

Polymer assembly for control of wax. We have been studying new polymers for control of the gelation of waxes in crude oil pipelines, by tuning crystallizable sequences within the polymer chain. The bulk properties of interest are gel yield stresses and surface deposition rates. The microscopic molecular interactions are studied by small angle neutron and synchrotron x-ray scattering.

Polymer-drug nanoparticle formation. We have developed a new "flash precipitation" process for making nearly monodisperse particles of hydrophobic drugs by kinetically co-crystallizing the drug with biodegradable block copolymers.

Biopolymers. Nature uses hydrogen bonding and ionic interactions to tune biopolymer self-assembly. Carrageenan polysaccharides that assemble into helical structures are the basis for porous supports for non-aqueous enzymology. Guar galactomannans form hydrogen-bonded gels with anomalously high viscosity. Using a technique developed at NIH we quantify the role of guar secondary structure on hydrogen bonding. Using confocal microscopy we have studied the diffusion of enzymes through the guar gels, which is important in processes involving degradation of guar or controlled release from gels.

Emulsions. Stabilization of emulsions, foams and thin films requires that the interfaces be kept far enough apart to prevent rupture induced by long-range, London-van der Waals attractions. We study the stabilization of thin films by hydrophobically modified polymers using a novel thin film apparatus.


Phase diagram for lamellar surfactant
Phase diagram for lamellar surfactant phase (C12EO5) and a 250,000 g/mol molecular weight polyacrylic acid polymer with random C16 hydrophobes. The region of miscibility is shown in blue. The vertical axis, "membrane volume fraction" is the surfactant concentration, so increasing concentration produces smaller inter-lamellar water layers; the horizontal axis, "hydrophobe substitution level", is the mole percent of acrylic acid sites to which hydrophobes have been grafted.