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Special Faculty Feature: Sankar Raghavan, Eastman Professor of Practice

Sankar Raghavan instructs student in a laboratory.

Sankar Raghavan (center) discusses an experiment in the Eastman Unit Operations Laboratory with chemical engineering seniors (from left) Taylor Forrest and Bradley Hannah.

Sankar Raghavan’s lifelong interest in academic pursuits led him to pursue a second career in teaching after working as a chemical engineer for almost thirty years. He left Merck & Company in Danville, Pennsylvania, and lectured at Johns Hopkins University and at Bucknell University for a short time before joining the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in fall 2015 as the Eastman Professor of Practice.

“I consider myself fortunate in landing the position of the Eastman Professor of Practice, as it gives me the opportunity to pursue my interest in bringing a practical flavor to teaching students,” said Raghavan, who teaches a laboratory course on chemical engineering unit operations to senior students in the new Eastman Unit Operations Laboratory. He seeks to bring his years of industry experience into his teaching.

I try to demonstrate through examples in my courses that there is nothing more practical than a good theory, and the students should be comfortable applying the lessons from UT in their working life and continue to learn lifelong. My approach is to frame open-ended problems, provide the students with broad outlines of the solutions, and give them the opportunity to develop a solution. I try to encourage interactions among the students as they learn from each other the best.”

—Sankar Raghavan

He is also focused on the continued enhancement of possibilities for the Unit Operations Lab, refurbished in 2015 with funds from Eastman.

“There are already many excellent laboratory experiments that are part of the current course,” he said. “We are looking at augmenting this substantially. For example, we are working on adding continuous distillation and gas chromatography to the list of experiments. We are working with the engineers from Eastman in setting up this experiment.”

Raghavan looks forward to collaborating on the CBE’s senior design course in upcoming semesters.

“When I get a break, I try to think of a few good problems for that course,” he said. “I am looking for ways to collaborate with industries in the area and other researchers.”

While his current focus is teaching, as time permits Raghavan likes to investigate systematic, yet rapid, methodologies for process development.

“My interest stems from my experience in the pharmaceutical industry, where it is important to bring products to the market in the shortest possible time,” he said. “I am also interested in exploring continuous processing methods in the pharmaceutical and specialty chemicals manufacturing arena, currently dominated by batch processes.”

His first semester with CBE has been quite busy, but Raghavan has enjoyed getting to know the campus and Knoxville area. He has found time to take walks with a meet-up group, visit parks, play tennis, and follow the UT Vols football season. He also likes to read, play bridge, and has tried a bit of gardening. He and wife, Sandhya, look forward to visits from son Rahul, a resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and daughter Priya, who is a medical student at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“At the university, I have enjoyed attending seminars by invited speakers and interacting with my colleagues at the department,” said Raghavan. “It has been a joy working with the UT students. I find them very eager to learn. I have been uniformly impressed with the quality of the people, the friendly atmosphere, and the many outdoor activities that are available at UT.”