John and Christel Nyheim

Paving the way for lifesaving plasma research
John and Christel Nyheim

Long considered a leader in plasma research, Drexel is harnessing properties of the Universe’s fourth and most energetic state of matter to create life-improving breakthroughs ranging from cleaner, more efficient fuels to immunotherapy treatments for cancer. Now, the University is poised to embark on a new era of discovery, thanks in large measure to the support and foresight of longtime donors John and Christel Nyheim.

The Nyheims’ generous philanthropy and passionate advocacy have fueled and elevated more than a decade of breakthroughs by Drexel innovators.

The Nyheims paved the way for advancements in plasma research when they established the John A. Nyheim Endowed University Chair in 1999. With this support, engineering professor Alexander Fridman, who continues to occupy the chair, founded the A.J. Drexel Plasma Institute. The Institute enabled faculty and students from across the University to develop and apply plasma-based solutions in areas such as energy, medicine, bioengineering and environmental remediation. It is considered the birthplace of plasma medicine, a field that began with a research collaboration of Drexel scientists, engineers and medical doctors and has expanded to academic institutions around the world.

In 2016 the Nyheims made another generous gift that is further raising the research profile of what is now known as the C&J Nyheim Plasma Institute. At the naming ceremony for the Institute, President John Fry said the Nyheims’ “generous philanthropy and passionate advocacy have fueled and elevated more than a decade of breakthroughs by Drexel innovators. Their wonderful gift to name the plasma institute will ensure that this center of excellence continues to grow in strength and impact in the years to come.”

Today, Nyheim Plasma Institute receives millions of dollars in funding from the federal government through NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture. Its projects range from water-to-energy conversion and air and water treatment, to blood coagulation control, wound healing and tissue regeneration. Over the years, the Institute has collaborated with many companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Air Products, Kodak, Lockheed Martin and Campbell Soup Company.

New breakthroughs on the horizon

Most recently the Nyheim Plasma Institute’s pioneering work attracted a five-year NSF grant for the creation of a joint effort with the University of Michigan and George Washington University to investigate new uses for high-pressure plasma technology. Led by Drexel, the NSF-supported Center for High Pressure Plasma Energy, Agriculture and Biomedical Technologies will collaborate with industry in this growing field of research. The new entity will have a physical presence at all three universities.

The NSF grant is intended to bring together the expertise of academic researchers with the expertise of industry professionals, who have been using plasma for many years in various applications. Their goal is to further explore the science behind plasma and hopefully broaden its use in other applications.

Fridman, who will serve as director of the new center, says: “By deepening our understanding of plasma systems and how they interact with their environment, this work will help expand the use of low temperature plasma for applications such as food processing, agriculture, fuel conversion, medical and industrial waste water treatment, and many other new areas.”

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