How this sophomore hopes to change crude petroleum

Patrick Aghadiuno aims to make oil production more environmentally friendly.

Patrick Aghadiuno

This profile is the part of our series of Spotlights on Diversity in Engineering, which recognize individuals, teams or organizations with connections to the Rice University School of Engineering.

Nigeria is the largest oil and gas producer in Africa and the 11th largest in the world, and yet almost half of its population lives below the international poverty line of $2 per day.

Someday, Patrick O. Aghadiuno, a sophomore in chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University, and the son of Nigerian-born parents, hopes to redress that situation while working to make petroleum production more environmentally friendly.

“I hope to study ways to change the chemical and physical nature of crude petroleum and make it more compatible with the environment without jeopardizing its energy output. I hope to open my own company in my parent’s home country and revamp its economy,” Aghadiuno said.

His parents were born in Onitsha, a port city on the Niger River in southern Nigeria. Like millions of other immigrants, their son says, they came to the U.S. “to live a better life and to award their children a chance at a better education.” His mother is a registered family nurse practitioner and his father is an entrepreneur.

Aghadiuno was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and grew up near Atlanta in Gwinnett County. “I have always loved the STEM subjects, especially chemistry and physics. That is what I always wanted to do. There was even a time when I wanted to become a mad scientist,” he said.

While still in high school, Aghadiuno worked as a chemistry intern at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville and as a chemical engineering intern at Micromeritics Instrument Corp., a scientific instruments manufacturer in Norcross, Ga.

“Chemical engineering is not seen as the most humanitarian field to go into. It has an image problem. I would like to see that change. If it wasn’t a challenge, it wouldn’t be worth it,” Aghadiuno said.

He received a full four-year scholarship to attend Rice from QuestBridge, the national nonprofit group based in Palo Alto, Calif. In addition, Aghadiuno was awarded a $5,000 scholarship from the American Chemical Society.

At Rice, Aghadiuno is a ministry leader in the Impact Movement and a member of Rice African Student Association, the Black Student Association and the Black Male Leadership Initiative. He is also a peer academic adviser at Baker College.

“The only thing really stopping me from achieving my goals is the fact that I don’t yet have full knowledge of how to change the character of chemicals or how to make gas and oil safer for the environment. Hopefully, after my time here at Rice, I will find the answers that I seek to continue with my life plan. Yes, it’s naïve but that’s my ambition. Nothing in this life is easy,” he said.