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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Aug. 24, 2007

Doctor of research management

by Mike Krapfl, News Service

Justinus Satrio

Justinus Satrio is program manager for ISU's Center for Sustainable Environmental Technologies, a position that keeps him busy organizing research projects. Photo by Bob Elbert.

Justinus Satrio rattled off the research projects, one by one by one ...

There's a U.S. Department of Agriculture project that's studying the partial burning of corn stalks and leaves to produce fuels, fertilizer and charcoal that enriches soils and sequesters carbon.

There's a Department of Energy project that's exploring the conversion of coal to ethanol.

There's an Iowa Energy Center project that's looking at bio-oil as an additive to stabilize asphalt.

There's a California Energy Commission project that's converting wheat straw to synthesis gas and hydrogen.

There's a Department of Defense project that's developing techniques involving gasification and gas upgrading to convert solid waste into liquid fuels.

There's a City of Ames project that's exploring the production of bio-oil from the city's garbage.

There's the three summer research projects that had three undergraduates studying pre-treatment of biomass to improve biofuel production and the soil-enhancing effects of the charcoal left over from biofuel production.

Oh, and there are four ConocoPhillips projects that are part of the company's $22.5 million biofuels research program on campus.

Satrio, the 39-year-old program manager for Iowa State's Center for Sustainable Environmental Technologies, manages all those projects and keeps them moving ahead. He also finds time to get in the lab as a research scientist. All of that takes a lot of work.

He works for Robert C. Brown, who directs the center and is the Iowa Farm Bureau Director of Biorenewables Programs at Iowa State. Satrio works with other researchers across campus. He works with scientists, post-docs, graduate students and undergraduates. He also works in three labs, one at the bench-scale, one at the lab-scale and one at the pilot-plant scale.

"It's exciting," Satrio said. "At the same time, it's chaos. But it is a good chaos."

To manage it all, Satrio gets up at 4 a.m. to get a good and quiet head start on his work days.

But even that's not enough.

"When Justinus agreed to become my laboratory manager, I warned him that working around the clock would not be enough to keep our projects on track," Brown said. "Instead, he would have to help me identify good prospects for graduate students, post docs and other staff and teach them to take ownership of their projects."

That, of course, "meant Justinus had to figure out how to manage the work of students and staff without stifling their initiative," Brown said.

Satrio has managed to do just that, Brown said, even as the center has added two research scientists and nine students since January.

Finding a school of science and technology

Growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia, Satrio was one of those kids who always liked math and science.

So when it was time to move on to higher education, his parents were hoping he'd become a doctor. He agreed to give medical school a try.

That only lasted two months.

"I was afraid of blood," he said.

That's a good thing for Iowa State.

A scholarship provided an opportunity to study in the United States and Satrio started looking around. He had 50 states to choose from. He picked Iowa.

The future engineer liked the full name of the land-grant university: the Iowa State University of Science and Technology. He also liked Iowa's location in the middle of the country - it wasn't too far from just about everywhere.

So he enrolled in the chemical engineering program and earned a degree in 1991. Then it was on to an Iowa State master's degree in 1993. Then it was two years in Kansas City working as a process engineer. Then back to Indonesia to work for a government technology agency. Then it was back to Iowa State for a doctoral degree in reaction engineering and catalysis.

Satrio was a very good student who loved to run experiments, said L.K. Doraiswamy, Satrio's major professor and an Anson Marston Distinguished Professor Emeritus of chemical and biological engineering.

"He's a person who liked to learn and liked to be busy all the time," Doraiswamy said. "He never shirked work. Whatever responsibility you gave him, he'd take it."

Good for Iowa, good for Indonesia

After he became a doctor in 2001 (just not the kind his mother was hoping for), Satrio took a post-doctoral position at the University of Iowa, where he worked with chemists and engineers. Then it was back to Ames and a post-doc position in chemical engineering.

That's when he came in contact with Brown's biorenewables research. It was a field that appealed to Satrio, personally and professionally.

After all, Indonesia is an agricultural country.

"This would be very valuable over there," Satrio said. "These are skills that could be beneficial for society here or in Indonesia."

He started talking to Brown about working for the center. That led to assisting with a research proposal. And now he's in the middle of as many proposals, projects and collaborations as he can handle.

There are, for example, weekly meetings with graduate students to check on the progress of their projects.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, he knows pretty much everything," said Pushkaraj Patwardhan, a doctoral student in chemical and biological engineering. "He knows what's going on and where we are."

So, whenever a problem comes up, "most of the time, when professors aren't around, he's the person we go to."

Yes, it's busy, Satrio said. Sure, he misses getting into the lab as much as he used to.

But, his work holds promise for some collaborations back home in Indonesia and other ag-based countries. And there's the promise of renewable fuels and products changing the world.

"This is what I want to do," he said. "I looked around for the right job that will challenge me and this is the one. I work with scientists and with engineers. I work on the micro scale and the macro scale. I can work with chemists and with industry people and talk about economics and agronomy.

"It's very diverse. That makes it exciting. And I am just starting."


Justinus Satrio is behind the scenes, managing the many research projects in ISU's Center for Sustainable Environmental Technologies.


"It's exciting. At the same time, it's chaos. But it is a good chaos."

Justinus Satrio