When Fikile R. Brushett ’02 was a kid, he didn’t dream about saving the world. He thought chemistry was exciting and wanted to find a way to make it part of his life. Flashforward more than 15 years and Brushett is now an associate professor of chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and his work might have a huge impact on sustainability and the environment.
“I remember watching the movie ‘The Rock’ and being really intrigued by Nicholas Cage’s character, Stanley Goodspeed, who was an FBI chemist,” said Brushett, who went by his middle name Richard while at St. Andrew’s. “I remember thinking ‘this is fascinating – how can I do this for a living?’”
With a natural inclination for chemistry and mathematics, Brushett was encouraged by Irene Walsh, who helped him procure a research experience working on environmental sensors at the Army Research Laboratory in Adelphi, Maryland through a program run by George Washington University. After graduating from St. Andrew’s he went to the University of Pennsylvania where he earned a degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, while also developing an interest in catalytic processes for generating chemicals, fuels, and power. Subsequently, he headed to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he earned a Master’s and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering.
In graduate school, he was introduced to electrochemistry, a subfield of chemistry which studies the interaction between electrical energy and chemical transformations, and underpins a number of exciting clean energy technologies, such as fuel cells and rechargeable batteries.
Now at MIT, his research program focuses on advancing the science and engineering of electrochemical technologies which he hopes can help address some of the biggest problems facing humanity.
“Energy is essential to modern society and the abundance, availability, and affordability of fossil fuels has been a key driver of the past century’s progress. However, with increasing global energy demand and climate volatility, there is an increasingly urgent need to decouple carbon emissions from economic activity without stifling economic growth. Our work aims to conceptualize, prototype, and validate new electrochemical systems that can enable a transition to low-carbon economy.”
Fikile (Richard) Brushett '02 is one of 12 alumni featured in the 40th anniversary magazine, published in May 2019. Learn more about the history of St. Andrew's and the impact our alumni are having around the world by reading our spring magazine.