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TTU News

thumb Dr_BiernackiJoseph Biernacki’s ability to balance the demands of his cutting-edge research and the needs of his students is being rewarded with one of Tennessee Tech University’s highest faculty honors.

The chemical engineering professor was awarded the university’s Distinguished Faculty Fellow Award this year to honor his notable record as a professor at TTU and the promising trajectory of his career. The award is the highest such honor a TTU faculty member can receive.

“There is no better example of what this award should be than Dr. Biernacki,” said Pedro Arce, chairperson of TTU’s chemical engineering department and last year’s award recipient. “He is a person who is not only a leader in his area but he is open to sharing what he knows to anyone who wants to learn. He is a passionate facilitator of learning with an unsurpassed service commitment to TTU’s mission for student success.”

Biernacki’s students see him as a passionate mentor and a tireless teacher, his colleagues seek his advice and experience in professional matters, and he has helped establish unique facilities and teaching methodologies that have moved both research and educational endeavors toward greater excellence on the TTU campus.

“Biernacki’s highly competitive National Science Foundation proposals have been a crucial element for bringing state-of-the-art research infrastructure not only to the Center but also to the TTU research and industrial community at large,” said Ken Currie, director of TTU’s Center for Manufacturing Research.

Biernacki’s research endeavors include understanding how portland cement works. Even though cementitious materials date back at least to Roman times, the chemical processes that transform the fluid cement into a hardened structure is not well understood to this day. It is these chemical reactions, called hydration, that he and his students focus on and hope will transform the way scientists engineer more durable and environmentally friendly concrete for the construction of 21st century infrastructure.

“Today, the production of concrete is responsible for about 7 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions,” he said. “If we could make concrete last 25 percent or even 50 percent longer, we would have a huge effect on the impact that concrete has on our environment.”

He is also a trustee for the Cement Division of the American Ceramic Society, and a fellow of both the American Concrete Institute and American Ceramic Society.

“Dr. Biernacki not only has the technical insight and intellectual horsepower to make significant advances, but he has the organizational ability and communication skills to be able to make them stick,” said Ken Hover, president of the ACI and professor of civil and environmental engineering and Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University. “I found his ideas exciting, his research plan sound and the payoff highly valuable and realistic.”

Biernacki will address a national audience this month in Cincinnati where he will pitch his research agenda and try to gain broad industry support for what he calls a plan for “paving the way to a more sustainable concrete infrastructure.”

Biernacki has been at TTU for 14 years.

He came to Cookeville, he said, “ … because I felt that Tech could be a vessel in which I could actively pursue a balanced academic experience including teaching, research and service."

That combination, according to Arce, made him the top contender for the award, which recognizes faculty members who have made significant contributions toward providing external recognition to the university.

“Service helps me to disseminate the research that I do and the research that I do helps me to be effective in the classroom,” Biernacki said. “Students are always looking for interesting and innovative things to do in the classroom. It would be difficult to maintain a vital and current approach to engineering education without my research.”

He has also been the recipient of the Caplenor Faculty Research Award for outstanding research scholarship in 2009, the TTU Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award in 2008 and the 2003 University Outstanding Service Award.

Biernacki has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Case Western Reserve University. He went on to get his master’s degree and doctorate from Cleveland State University. Before joining TTU, he spent 15 years in engineering, research and development for British Petroleum.