Relating Abstract Concepts of Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics to Current, Real-World Problems


  • Marco Castaldi Columbia University
  • Lucas Dorazio Columbia University
  • Nada Assaf-Anid Columbia University


In this paper we present the current, highly visible environmental problem of Methyl tert-butyl Ether (MTBE) contamination in groundwater that was given to students taking process thermodynamics. They were asked to propose solutions using the principles learned in class. The purpose was to give chemical engineering students a better understanding of the subject of thermodynamics. The problem incorporated abstract thermodynamic concepts, such as fugacity, solubility, and multiphase equilibrium, and attempted to apply these concepts to a relevant and practical situation that students can relate to. More specifically, it required the students to derive the proper thermodynamic relationships for the separation of 1-2% MTBE from an aqueous solution containing 5-10% n-heptane, used as a surrogate for gasoline.

Author Biographies

Marco Castaldi, Columbia University

Marco J. Castaldi is an Assistant Professor in the Earth & Environmental Engineering Department at Columbia University. He received his BS from Manhattan College and his MS and PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles, all in chemical engineering. His teaching interests lie in thermodynamics, combustion phenomena, and reaction engineering.

Lucas Dorazio, Columbia University

Lucas Dorazio is currently working toward his MSc in Chemical Engineering at Manhattan College. He received his BSc in chemical engineering from West Virginia University. He is also employed full-time by Engelhard Corporation as a Product Development Engineer.

Nada Assaf-Anid, Columbia University

Nada M. Assaf-Anid is Associate Professor and Chairperson of the Chemical Engineering Department at Manhattan College. She earned her BS and MS in Chemical Engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, and her PhD in Environmental Engineering from the University of Michigan. Her research and teaching interests are in biochemical engineering, hazardous chemicals remediation, thermodynamics, separations, and water purification.