Mashup of book cover and President Hank Foley


President Foley’s Textbook Leverages Power of Mathematica

February 3, 2022

While New York Tech President Hank Foley, Ph.D., was juggling the many responsibilities of being a university president and doing so during a global pandemic, he also managed to continue on a path he started many years ago as a lifelong learner and educator. In June 2021, he saw his latest endeavor in the field of chemical engineering come to fruition with the publication of the second edition of Introduction to Chemical Engineering Analysis Using Mathematica.

For those who aren’t aware, President Foley is an accomplished researcher who has dedicated more than 30 years to advancing the study of nanotechnology and chemical engineering. He holds 16 patents, has written more than 200 articles, book chapters and conference proceedings, and in 2002 completed the first edition of Introduction to Chemical Engineering Analysis Using Mathematica as a researcher and faculty member at Penn State.

In the 952-page 2021 edition of the textbook, President Foley completely revised and updated many of the resources he developed for chemists, biotechnologists, and material scientists to learn how to program and solve chemical engineering problems in a variety of scenarios. He integrated numerous newly worked problems and tackled new topics, including the conservation of energy, providing detailed examples and analysis using the latest version of the powerful mathematical software tool Mathematica.

President Foley sat down with The Box to discuss his process, the importance of the tools and topics covered in this edition, and how his passion for the subject matter fuels his approach to his “day job.”

What compelled you to write this second edition and how has the field changed over the past 20 years?
I was surprised and delighted when Academic Press invited me to write a second edition of the book. Interestingly, while chemical engineering has changed over the past two decades, the fundamentals have not. This book seeks to teach a person how to use the elementary aspects of those fundamentals. What did change was Mathematica. I wrote the first edition using Mathematica 4.0 and the second edition using version 12.3. Interestingly, all the notebooks and code that I developed with earlier versions of Mathematica still worked. But the new tools that have been added are very powerful.

Did working on this book help you feel more relevant in the field, given that you haven’t been able to be in the lab or classroom in recent years?
Relevant is an interesting word to use for the feeling that working on this book gave me. I was motivated to do this because I think the material is highly relevant, and the way of thinking that is presented is quite potent. When one combines this type of analytical thinking with Mathematica, the result is quite potent. Furthermore, building models in this way, starting with a simple model and then developing it into a more and more sophisticated model, is a great way to learn about what you really know. Finally, it is just plain fun to do. Using Mathematica is really a joy.

Who benefits from the information in the book and how? What is the intended audience?
Well, some chemical engineers will benefit from the material in the book, particularly on how to use the Wolfram Language and Mathematica, because they already know the analysis part of the material. Fledgling chemical engineers will see how to integrate analysis with computation. Anyone with ambition to do modeling and to learn to use Mathematica will learn a lot from reading this book and working through it. I see it as being particularly useful for biologists, biochemists, biotechnologists, chemists, materials scientists—that is, anyone who uses chemical systems for separations and reactions.

How does a university president find the time and energy to complete a 900+ page book?
It was not easy. I had about 20 years of materials—Mathematica notebooks that I had been creating and accumulating over 15-20 years before and after I stopped teaching. But the main work happened after 2017 when I began to edit and assemble the content. It took a few years of evenings, weekends, and summer breaks. It was actually much harder to do than I thought it would be. The hardest part was having to learn to use LaTex [a plain text software program for producing scientific and technical documentation], in which the chapters had to be done. That was unanticipated until I received the paperwork.

How would you like this work to inspire other faculty—or administrators—who may be considering tackling this type of project? What advice do you have?
I would say be a “doer.” Go and do it if you can. I think we have lost the kind of scholarly work that seeks to review, sort, and refine the work that others do. I believe in writing books that require this kind of scholarship. My book is more about fundamentals than it is about research, but the spirit of scholarship is the root.

You are a strong advocate for the use of Mathematica in many disciplines—what makes this software platform so compelling?
Yes, I think Mathematica is becoming more and more intelligent. When I started to use it in 1988, it was clever and interesting. Now, it is amazing, there is so much that can be done with it—too much for almost any one person to be able to comprehend. I believe that it should begin to change the way in which we teach and students learn mathematics. So much of what we used to have to learn was the work of learning the methods of computing by hand. While we still teach that way, digital mathematics is developing so fast and is so well done that it begs the question of how do we teach mathematics for the future. Again, Mathematica is fun to use. One can do mathematical experiments and learn so much from them. It opens an avenue to learning that is almost empirical. I realize that this is not what most mathematicians want to hear, let alone embrace. I understand the reluctance, I really do, but the advances in the technology are not just begging the question, they are going forward in spite of the question. Change is inexorable. We can resist it, or embrace it and direct it. This could open mathematics to a much wider audience of people who have never done math before. The joy of computational mathematics is real, and it will grow!