Theodore Walker


Status: Third-year Ph.D. student (co-advised with Prof. George Huber)

Undergrad institution: University of Illinois at Chicago (B.S. in Chemical Engineering, cum laude, honors college)

Research Summary:

A key aspect of a renewable carbon economy is the production and upgrading of biomass-derived chemical intermediates in high yield. My research is focused on the fundamental chemistry underlying acid-catalyzed reactions of these intermediates.

Currently, I am working to understand organic solvent effects in the acid-catalyzed reactions of biomass-derived oxygenates. Mixtures of water with polar aprotic solvents (i.e., mixed solvent environments) can improve reaction performance in biomass valorization processes; a minimum amount of water is often required to facilitate solvation of biomass-derived material, while the organic co-solvent can enhance the kinetics and efficiencies of biomass conversion reactions. However, owing to the lack of broadly-applicable design rules in this context, solvent design in new processes is usually a time-consuming, empirical exercise. My goal is to elucidate the fundamental underlying effects that give rise to changes in chemical reaction kinetics and selectivities as a function of solvent composition. In doing so, I hope to develop a set predictive tools in the form of quantitative structure-reactivity models that will empower the rational design of new liquid phase processes, informed by a first-principles approach.


Theodore (Ted) Walker is from Carbondale, Illinois. After five years in the US Army's 75th Ranger Regiment, he used the G.I Bill to obtain a B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where he graduated cum laude from the Honors College. He enjoys living in Madison with his wife Julie, and his sons Alex and Ira. His favorite family past times are biking the lakeshore path, gardening, and visiting the Madison zoo. He also volunteers as a 3rd grade science club leader at the Goodman Community Center in Madison.


  1. T. W. Walker, A. K. Chew, H. Li, B. Demir, Z. C. Zhang, G. W. Huber, R. C. Van Lehn, J. A. Dumesic, Universal kinetic solvent effects in acid-catalyzed ractions of biomass-derived oxygenates, Energy and Environmental Science (in press).

  2. T. W. Walker, S. H. Krishna,  J.A. Dumesic, G.W. Huber,  Kinetics of levoglucosenone isomerization, ChemSusChem 2017, 10, 129-138.

  3. J. He, M. Liu, K. Huang, T. W. Walker C. T. Maravelias, I., J. A. Dumesic, G. W. Huber, Production of levoglucosenone and 5- hydroxymethylfurfural from cellulose in polar aprotic solvents-water mixtures, Green Chemistry, 2017, accepted. DOI: 10.1039/C7GC01688C

  4. J. He, K. Huang, K. J. Barnett, S. H. Krishna, D. M. Alonso, Z. J. Brentzel, S. Burt, T. W. Walker, W. F. Bahnholzer, C. T. Maravelias, I. Hermans, J. A. Dumesic, G. W. Huber, New catalytic stradegies for alpha-omega diol production from lignocellulosic biomass, Faraday Discussions, 2017.  


  1. Wisconsin Distinguished Graduate Fellow (fully funded fellowship awarded for academic achievement), UW-Madison, Madison, WI, 2017

  2. Ronald A. Ragatz Teaching Assistant Award (departmental award for “noteworthy contributions to chemical and biological engineering undergraduate education”), UW-Madison, Madison, WI, 2017.

  3. Graduated cum Laude from the UIC Honors College, Chicago, IL, 2015

  4. Olive C. and Alfred L. Kuehn Scholarship for Engineering, (UIC College of Engineering scholarship for academic achievements), Chicago, IL, 2014

  5. Illinois Patriot Education Fund Scholarship (veteran’s scholarship for academic excellence), Chicago, IL, 2013