Ihab H. Farag

Excellence in International Engagement

Professor of Chemical Engineering
College of Engineering and Physical Science


Photographed on August 19, 2004, in the studio, Photo Services, University of New Hampshire.

 

Ihab H. Farag

With his digital camera in a hip holster, Ihab Farag is known the world over as “the group picture guy.”

From Egypt and Thailand to El Salvador and Bulgaria, nary a meeting escapes digital documentation. E-mailed to far-flung participants, the results strengthen collaborations on pollution prevention, chemical risk screening, and biodiesel research in countries around the globe.

If Farag could only share his seemingly boundless source of energy with the rest of the world, many of the problems his research tackles would be solved. A professor of chemical engineering, he usually teaches two courses each semester, in addition to his prodigious outreach and research activities as the Hamel Professor of Technology and Innovation, but for the last year he has been on sabbatical. This left him time to help organize a biodiesel research group at UNH—which has sparked collaborations with Egypt and attracted the attention of the British Consulate; provide the driving force behind two cooperative agreements with the University of El Salvador and the Salvadoran Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources; and continue to support the chemical risk screening program with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). All this in addition to directing the N.H. Pollution Prevention Internship Program (NHP2I), which typically has him overseeing six to 15 student projects, and presenting to the Partnership for Peace program—which has brought delegations from Tajikistan, Georgia, Belarus, and Macedonia to UNH to learn about pollution prevention.

“It keeps me active and young,” says Farag, who indeed looks much younger than his 57 years.

Given his background, it is only natural that Farag has spent much of his career reaching out to people in other countries. The child of two pharmacists, Farag moved to the United States from Cairo, Egypt, in 1969 to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a master’s and a doctor of science degree before coming to UNH in 1976.

“Having lived in another country, I appreciate things that other people take for granted, like turning on the water faucet and getting clean water,” he says. “When I travel overseas and I encounter these things, I can cope with them.”

The subject of his research also drives Farag to cross borders. “There’s no boundary to pollution,” he explains. “It’s the same challenge whether you are in the United States or elsewhere.”

Established in 1994 with the EPA and the N.H. Department of Environmental Services, NHP2I has saved companies more than $3 million annually by providing student interns trained to reduce pollution. Farag exported the program to Thailand in 1997, forming the International Pollution Prevention Partnership. More than 100 Thai students have been trained, and more than 30 Thai student interns have been placed at Thai facilities.

More recently, Farag supported the EPA in the implementation of computer software now used internationally to assess a chemical’s potential for persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity (PBT) based on its chemical characteristics. Approximately 1,500 new chemical compounds are created annually, but only a very small percentage ever have toxicological studies to determine their effect on human health. Using the PBT Profiler, manufacturers can identify chemicals likely to pose environmental concerns in product development, allowing them to choose less hazardous alternatives or plan ways to reduce environmental releases.

“These kinds of tools help companies to screen chemicals early on to see which ones raise red flags,” he says. “A lot of the problems associated with PCBs, for example, could have been identified if we had these tools earlier.”

When asked if he has ever heard the popular environmental maxim once common on bumper stickers, Farag replies, “I’m thinking globally and acting locally—on a global scale.”

—Robert Emro