Hank Ashbaugh Receives International Award for Water Research

Scientist Hank Ashbaugh of Tulane University received the Helmholz Award for his research on the properties of water and aqueous solutions, in particular, the hydrophobic effect. (Photo ©2013 PBurch/Tulane Publications)

(Click to enlarge) Scientist Hank Ashbaugh of Tulane University received the Helmholz Award for his research on the properties of water and aqueous solutions, in particular, the hydrophobic effect. (Photo ©2013 PBurch/Tulane Publications)

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative congratulates one of its own – Dr. Hank Ashbaugh, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Tulane University – for receiving the prestigious Helmholtz award.

The International Association for the Properties of Water and Steam (IAPWS) presented Ashbaugh this award on September 2nd in London.  The honor highlights his body of work attempting to gain a deeper understanding, through simulations and advanced theories based on equations-of-state and scaled particle theory, of the hydrophobic effect, or the observed tendency of non-polar substances to aggregate in an aqueous solution and to exclude water molecules when doing so. 

Ashbaugh, a co-principal investigator with the Consortium for the Molecular Engineering of Dispersant Systems (C-MEDS), has spent his career focusing on the hydrophobic effect from a molecular perspective.  Ashbaugh explained, “The hydrophobic effect, captured by the adage ‘oil and water don’t mix’ is responsible for the ability for soap to work, for proteins to function, and for life to hold itself together. It also explains why your dressing separates in the fridge and why you need to shake it up before pouring it on your salad.”

When speaking of his feelings about the honor, Ashbaugh was quick to credit his research team, saying, “This award represents acknowledgement from the greater water community—there is no hydrophobic effect without water after all—that our work is making a difference and is helping researchers and scientists from diverse fields.” He added, “I really want to promote this award for other folks I know who are making excellent contributions to water related research and deserve recognition.”

Ashbaugh enjoyed his trip to London, primarily because it afforded him the opportunity to meet many researchers at the IAPWS event who do not usually attend the same conferences he does. He called the outpouring of congratulations he has received from fellow scientists since the award was announced “heartening and humbling.”

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) funds the Consortium for the Molecular Engineering of Dispersant Systems (C-MEDS) research program.  GoMRI is a 10-year, $500 million independent research program established by an agreement between BP and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon incident and the potential associated impact of this and similar incidents on the environment and public health.

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