New endowed chair honors Professor Peter Pintauro

Recognized for his work in the field of fuel cell membranes and electrochemical engineering, Professor Peter N. Pintauro, chair of the chemical and biomolecular engineering department, is the first holder the H. Eugene McBrayer Chair in Chemical Engineering in the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering.


An event to introduce Pintauro as holder of the new McBrayer chair and to honor the benefactor, H. Eugene McBrayer, retired president of Exxon Chemical, was held June 2 in Featheringill Hall. Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Richard McCarty, and Dean Kenneth F. Galloway spoke at the event. McBrayer and Pintauro shared remarks as well.

Gene McBrayer graduated from Vanderbilt in 1954 with a BE in chemical engineering. Following graduation he joined the Esso Standard Oil Company and for the next 38 years made his career with that organization, which is now ExxonMobil Corporation, Fortune 500’s No. 1 largest American corporation in 2009.

McBrayer and his wife, Fay, endowed a chair in the School of Engineering as part of their commitment to education and Vanderbilt. “I have been extremely fortunate in life. Now it’s time to pay it forward,” he said.

During McBrayer’s recent visit to Vanderbilt he toured Pintauro’s lab in Olin Hall. “Their fuel cell membrane research effort is quite impressive. Peter and his research associates are a great team,” said McBrayer, who added that he and Pintauro both share the belief that “chemical engineering and electrochemistry will play a major role in the world’s energy future.”

“Fuel cells have been around for a long time. Their potential energy conversion efficiency has always been compelling; however, high cost has held back widespread application.  The research by Peter and his team could significantly rebalance the cost equation. Also, their membrane developments could have significant application in advanced batteries.”

The McBrayers have previously supported the School of Engineering through the endowed H. Eugene McBrayer and Fay W. McBrayer Scholarship and through the creation of the H. Eugene McBrayer and Fay W. McBrayer multipurpose room adjacent to Adams Atrium in Featheringill Hall, which was completed in 2001.

“I am truly honored to have been chosen as the inaugural holder of the H. Eugene McBrayer Chair in Chemical Engineering. Endowed professorships have both practical significance and symbolic importance at universities and they underscore our highest ideals,” Pintauro said.

Pintauro said endowed professorships are powerful instruments for recruiting and retaining the very best faculty and in this regard they are key elements in the process of university-led discovery, innovation and teaching.

“Endowed professorships play another important role at the university, he added. “They are used to recognize the achievements of our alumni and acknowledge the heritage and enduring connection between past and present students. Thus, endowed chairs in the name of past graduates, as is the case for the H. Eugene McBrayer Chair, will forever remind students at Vanderbilt that great men and women preceded them.”

Pintauro plans to use the McBrayer endowment funds to support his research in electrochemical engineering and membrane science and to expand his work into new areas. “A portion of the McBrayer funds will be used to support high school and undergraduate interns in my lab and visiting scholars during the summer,” he said.

Pintauro’s research work is focused on developing new membranes for hydrogen/air, direct methanol and alkaline fuel cells; modeling species transport in ion-exchange membranes; and investigating electrochemical methods for organic synthesis.

The biggest impact of this research will be on the performance (power output) of fuel cells, which will lead to less expensive fuel cells. Pintauro works on new polymer materials and new polymer nanostructures for high-performance proton-exchange membranes to be used in hydrogen and direct methanol fuel cells. Better membranes will improve fuel cell performance and durability, which will ultimately make fuel cells more attractive for portable, automotive and stationary power applications.

Pintauro, who has won numerous awards for teaching and research, was named chair of the chemical and biomolecular engineering department at Vanderbilt in 2008.