Pablo G. Debenedetti is the Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Dean for Research. He served as vice dean of Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science from 2008 to 2013 and chair of the chemical engineering department between 1996 and 2004. Debenedetti obtained his B.S. degree in chemical engineering from Buenos Aires University, Argentina (1978), and his M.S. (1981) and Ph.D. (1985) degrees, also in chemical engineering, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He joined the faculty of Princeton University in 1985.
Debenedetti uses theoretical and computational tools to study the properties of water and aqueous systems, and their applications in areas ranging from the long-term preservation of biomolecules and pharmaceutical compounds to water desalination. His interests span the thermodynamics and statistical mechanics of liquids and glasses, as well as explorations of water and aqueous solutions, protein thermodynamics, nucleation, metastability, and the origin of homochirality in biological systems. Using theoretical and computational methods, Debenedetti and his students have provided key insights into the physical properties of cold liquid water (supercooled water), which is found in large quantities in high-altitude clouds. His team has also computed the phase diagram and evaporation kinetics of water confined by nano-scale hydrophobic surfaces, which are important in understanding the mechanisms of biological self-assembly, and provided powerful insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying the extraordinary slowing down of dynamic processes in liquids close to their glass transition. Debenedetti's current work focuses on computational investigations of water, where his team is applying free energy techniques to compute the phase behavior of molecular models of water, including transitions between distinct forms of liquid water. Other areas of current interest in his research group include anti-freeze proteins, the relationship between chirality and folding of biomolecules, and the stability of proteins at high pressures and low temperatures.
Debenedetti is the author of one book, Metastable Liquids, and more than 300 scientific articles. His professional honors include the Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation (1987); the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award from the Dreyfus Foundation (1989); a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (1991); the Professional Progress (1997), Walker (2008) and Institute Lecturer (2013) awards from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; the John M. Prausnitz Award in Applied Chemical Thermodynamics (2001); the Joel Henry Hildebrand Award in the Theoretical and Experimental Chemistry of Liquids from the American Chemical Society (2008); and the Guggenheim Medal from the Institution of Chemical Engineers (2017). He received the Distinguished Teacher Award from Princeton’s School of Engineering (2008) and the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching (2008), Princeton’s highest distinction for teaching. In 2008 Debenedetti was named one of 100 Chemical Engineers of the Modern Era by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Physical Society.