Desirée Plata appointed to John J. Lee Assistant Professorship

Desirée Plata

Desirée Plata, newly named as the John J. Lee Assistant Professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, focuses her research on unlocking the potential of carbon-based nanomaterials for transportation, energy storage, and water treatment by enabling scalable, tunable, environmentally sustainable nanomanufacturing.

In her laboratory, Plata uses organic chemical analysis to understand emissions formed during lab-scale representations of industrial methods. The analytical tools she has developed shed light on bond-building steps in nanocarbon formation, illuminating routes to reduce unwanted byproducts and improve the material and energy budgets during nanomaterial fabrication. The Plata Laboratory houses a unique device that enables researchers to simulate the complex reaction atmosphere molecule-by-molecule, probing different reaction intermediates and pathways, and monitor nanocarbon formation during nanotube growth via a variety of spectroscopic methods.  In addition, nano-enabled devices in the lab are being developed to demonstrate that material performance is not sacrificed using sustainable synthetic routes. In this way, Plata’s work spans from fundamental chemical mechanisms to providing applied solutions to pressing real-world problems.

Plata notes, “Interestingly, John J. Lee was also a chemical engineer who worked in aerospace and aeronautics manufacturing, and one of the primary current applications of my work is to enable advanced aero/astro material manufacture using carbon nanotubes. While similarities seem to end there (Mr. Lee had a much better jump shot than I do), I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve Yale in his named professorship and thank Mr. Lee for his remarkable contributions to the university.”

A graduate of Union College (Schenectady, New York), Plata earned her Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. She taught at MIT, Mount Holyoke College, and Duke University before joining the Yale faculty in 2014 as an assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering.

Plata has published numerous research papers in peer-reviewed journals. She serves as series editor and editorial board member for the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts. Plata’s honors include a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, the Odebrecht Award for Sustainable Development, and she is a two-time National Academy of Sciences Kavli Frontier of Science Fellow and National Academy of Engineers Frontier of Engineering Fellow.