Christie Galitsky: Pursuing Research Outside the Classroom

When Penn Engineering alumna Christie Galitsky reads the newspaper, she’s doing more than just keeping up on current events. She’s looking for opportunities to put her skills as a chemical engineer to work. “Reading about things that are going on in the world,” she says, “the poverty and the problems that people have to deal with that are so basic, it would be hard for me to imagine not wanting to work on these [issues]. That’s what provides me with my motivation.” Galitsky’s awareness of the world around her and her sincere concern for those living in it have led her to take what she’s learned at Penn and beyond, and apply it to some of today’s most pressing issues: sustainable development in developing countries, energy efficiency, and reduction of industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

As an undergraduate in the chemical engineering program, Galitsky maintained a 3.7 GPA in her major, minored in math, and financed 80% of her tuition by spending hours in labs, doing polymerase chain reaction sequencing on rheumatoid arthritis at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and working with Chemistry Professor Jeff Winkler on a project to synthesize taxol, a naturally occurring cancer fighting drug. Galitsky enjoyed the one-to-one attention that Penn’s chemical engineering students receive from faculty, and she identifies her advisor, Ray Gorte, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, as an important influence on her career. “He was a great advisor,” says Galitsky, citing Gorte’s welcoming nature, honesty, and individualized attention in guiding her studies, and in helping her apply to graduate school, which she did shortly after graduating cum laude from Penn.

After she received her master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, Galitsky began to engage in the kind of work that would earn her the 2006 Humanitarian of the Year Award from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review, a publication which also listed her as a top Young Innovator Under 35. Early in her career, Galitsky realized that she wanted to “… do more than develop products. I wanted to pursue creative aspects of research.” In her work, Galitsky has bonded her creativity, compassion and knowledge to the benefit of many around the world.

A project very close to Galitsky’s heart is the Darfur cookstove initiative (darfurstove.org). In war-ravaged Sudan, refugee women risk attack, sexual assault, and their very lives, simply by going out to collect enough fuel to cook meals for their families. Deforestation and reliance on fuel-inefficient three-stone fires have made it necessary for women to leave the relative safety of refugee camps and spend up to seven hours a day gathering enough wood for an average of three meals. Having designed a fuel-efficient cookstove, Galitsky and her colleagues have effectively increased the safety and quality of women’s lives in the Darfur camps. “As soon as a woman gets a stove, she’s going to have to go out 20% as often as she used to,” according to Galitsky. “So, for example, instead of going out five days a week, she’ll go once. Or she’ll go twice a week, sell the [extra] fuel, and have money to buy groceries.”

Credit: Penn Engineering Magazine, “Christie Galitsky: Pursuing Research Outside the Classroom," by Catherine Von Elm.

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The Darfur Stoves Project

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