Plastics Engineering Educator Recognized for Exceptional Research, Teaching and Service

Ram Nagarajan head shot Image by Tory Wesnofske
Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan of the Department of Plastics Engineering, a highly regarded researcher and teacher, has been named Distinguished University Professor, the top accolade bestowed on a UMass Lowell faculty member. The annual award honors an educator who is recognized by peers for outstanding contributions to research, education and service to the university community.

“I am honored and humbled by this recognition,” says Nagarajan, who first came to campus as a graduate student more than two decades ago.

Nagarajan, who joined UML’s plastics engineering faculty in 2006, currently serves as the university’s senior director for strategic defense research projects. He is also the co-director of the HEROES initiative (with the U.S. Army), the Fabric Discovery Center and the Center for Advanced Materials at UMass Lowell.

Nagarajan with Kurup and U.S. Rep Lori Trahan Image by Tory Wesnofske
Nagarajan, along with U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan at right and Prof. Pradeep Kurup and Assoc. Vice Chancellor Arlene Parquette at left, viewed a student demonstration during Trahan’s tour of the HEROES lab on North Campus in 2019.
“The UMass Lowell community has inspired me and provided me the chance to work collaboratively with our students, faculty and staff, both in terms of research and education as well as being impactful to this world in many ways, whether it is to empower our soldiers through the HEROES program or work in the areas of sustainability and green chemistry in collaboration with the Toxics Use Reduction Institute. I will be eternally grateful for all these opportunities,” he says.

Chancellor Julie Chen praised Nagarajan’s work in the lab and the classroom.

“Ram Nagarajan is a leader in teaching and interdisciplinary research, pushing the boundaries of science and engineering to develop solutions that will make the world safer and more sustainable. I join with the university community in congratulating him on this well-deserved award,” she says.

Prof. Pradeep Kurup, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the 2014 Distinguished University Professor, nominated Nagarajan for the honor, which was endorsed by 22 other faculty members from across the university. Kurup says Nagarajan “continually demonstrates visionary approaches in his professional endeavors, having made outstanding contributions both within his field of plastics engineering and across the larger community by engaging in highly acclaimed interdisciplinary research, teaching and service activities.”

Nagarajan at Fabric Discovery Center Image by Tory Wesnofske
Nagarajan speaking at the 2019 Celebration of Industry Partners held at the Fabric Discovery Center on 110 Canal St. in Lowell.
Nagarajan’s fields of expertise range from developing sustainable manufacturing of polymers, safe flame-retardant additives, formaldehyde-free thermoset plastics, bio-based surface-active agents and multifunctional textiles to electrochemical sensors for detecting toxic heavy metals in soil and water, as well as nanostructured wireless sensors for structural health monitoring.

He has been awarded 77 research grants and contracts totaling $22.4 million. These projects have resulted in collaborations with 18 faculty members from 10 departments in the Francis College of Engineering, Kennedy College of Sciences, Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences and the Manning School of Business.

To date, Nagarajan holds 20 patents and has published more than 100 technical papers in refereed journals and conference proceedings, and three book chapters. His publications have been cited by other researchers worldwide more than 4,200 times. 

He has also advised 10 master’s and eight doctoral students and is currently supervising five graduate students. His numerous honors include the UML 2018 Pillars of Excellence Award for Innovative Research and Entrepreneurship, a James V. Dandeneau Endowed Professorship and the P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Nagarajan and Steven Chu Image by Tory Wesnofske

Nagarajan with former U.S. Energy Secretary and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu during the latter’s campus visit in 2016.

Nagarajan is working closely with the Plastindia Foundation based in Mumbai, India, for the creation of Plastindia International University in Vapi, Gujarat. It is the country’s first university dedicated to plastics engineering and related fields and is set to open in 2023. UMass Lowell’s Department of Plastics Engineering is helping to develop the university’s engineering curriculums and train its faculty. 

Nagarajan obtained his bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and rubber technology from the University of Madras and Anna University, respectively, in Chennai, India. He is also a double River Hawk, having earned master’s and Ph.D. degrees, both in polymer science, from UMass Lowell in 1998 and 2000, respectively.

Nagarajan is the 15th professor to receive the award since it was established in 2008. His three-year term as Distinguished University Professor will run through Aug. 31, 2025. Other current honorees include Profs. Katherine Tucker (biomedical and nutritional sciences, 2021-2024), Christopher Niezrecki (mechanical and industrial engineering, 2020-2023) and William Moylan (music, 2019-2022). 

As part of the award, Nagarajan will deliver a campus-wide Distinguished University Professor Lecture next spring.