Undergraduates Recognized at AIChE Student Conference

The NC State Student Chapter of the American Institute for Chemical Engineers (AIChE) sent a contingent of twenty-eight students to the 2022 AIChE Annual Student Conference held in Phoenix, AZ, Nov. 11 – 15. The students participated in educational and career workshops, research posters and oral presentations, team competitions, and networking events. Led by senior Noha Zayan, the current president of the chapter, the weekend was a resounding success, with the chapter’s advisor, Dr. Kim Roberts commending Noha for her “logistical prowess, problem-solving skills and calm under pressure attitude.

Four NC State students entered the research poster competition: Andrew Berley, Hannah Dickerson, James Kurdi, and Katie Traynelis. All had impressive presentations, with Andrew’s poster entitled, “Time Trials of Hemp Chromosome Squash,” receiving 2nd place in Food, Pharmaceutical, and Biotechnology division. His research, which is advised by assistant professor Hsuan Chen in Horticultural Science, investigated the optimal enzyme digestion time of the plant Cannabis sativa L. for a technique called Chromosome Squash that provides karyotypes and other chromosomal measurements. Andrew’s work used trials ranging from digestion times of 20 minutes to 5 hours, finding that 1 hour provided the optimal amount of cell-wall degradation to observe chromosome counts in samples. This tailored protocol will now be used to confirm and generate publishable results for chromosomal studies in C. sativa.

In addition to his poster award, Andrew Berley also received the prestigious John J. McKetta Scholarship for his academic achievement and involvement in the chapter at the conference. Only one such scholarship is given nationally to a member planning a career in the chemical engineering process industries, and Andrew was this year’s winner. Andrew received his award at the Student Conference Awards Ceremony, along with Noha Zayan, who received the Donald F. & Mildred Topp Othmer Scholarship for academic achievement and involvement. Dr. Kim Roberts was also honored at the ceremony with the Outstanding Student Chapter Advisor Award, and the NC State AIChE student chapter was recognized as an Outstanding Student Chapter, marking the 24th award in the past 26 years. Other NC State award winners included Katie Traynelis (Donald F. Othmer Sophomore Academic Excellence Award), Savannah Powers (Freshman Recognition Award), and Tyler Void (Minority Affairs Committee Scholarship for a second year running)!

Camille Brule represented NC State in the oral undergraduate research session, presenting her work, “Elucidating the Factors that Lead to Plasticization in Cellulose Derivatives for Greener Bioplastics.” Her research, which she has been performing for nearly a year under the supervision of Profs. Stephen Kelley and Melissa Pasquinelli in the Department of Forest Biomaterials, aims to replace the currently-used phthalate-based plasticizers with greener alternatives.  The first part of her project took a holistic approach to characterize plasticized biomaterials to understand the mechanism of plasticization.  The second phase involves evaluation of green plasticizer alternatives using the established characteristics from phase one as the baseline. Camille presented her work in October at the Gulf Coast Undergraduate Research Symposium at Rice and won “Best Overall Presentation.” She is currently working on finalizing a paper on which she is second author.

Representing NC State’s student chapter’s K-12 Outreach Team, Savannah Powers presented “Putting the “Polar” in Frozen Dessert: Using Chemical Engineering and Polarity to Make Ice Cream” in the K-12 STEM Showcase and Outreach Competition and Open House. Savannah discussed the curriculum that she developed for middle school students which teaches them about the chemical properties of ice cream (for example, polarity, freezing point, molecular interactions) and the chemical engineering equipment used in ice cream production (centrifuge, homogenizer, heat exchanger, and mixer). As Savannah noted, “This lesson is unique because it ties in with the Howling Cow at NC State.” She adds that, “students love the activity because it takes a concept that is hard to understand and gets them excited about engineering. The most interesting thing to the kids has been the fact that they can see the viscosity difference in the whole milk versus the heavy cream, and they understand the viscosity difference is due to the difference in the concentrations of the nonpolar fat component versus the polar water.” If you were wondering, the flavor of the ice cream is vanilla!

Other notable awardees at the meeting included Sydney Floryanzia (BSChE ’21), who received the Poddar Award for Rising Chemical Engineers. Sydney, a former member of the chapter who graduated last year, was recognized for her contributions to AIChE, chemical engineering, and society. Sydney is currently working on her Ph.D. at the University of Washington, developing a microfluidics model of the blood-brain barrier under the direction of Prof. Elizabeth Nance (BSChE ’06). Although she is only a recent graduate, Sydney has a long list of accolades, including a National GEM Consortium fellowship, an ARCS Foundation fellowship, and an NSF GRFP fellowship. She performs outreach, encourages young women to enter engineering, and has starred on the weekly podcast Her STEM Story and delivered a TEDxTeen Talk. In Prof. Nance’s nomination of Sydney for the Poddar award, she summed up her potential: “I say with whole-hearted sincerity that I believe Sydney is the future of our field. … With a curious and sharp mind, a thoughtfulness for others, and a strong drive to pursue her scientific and education goals, she will continue to grow as an exceptional leader, student, and research scholar in the AIChE community.”

On behalf of the entire CBE community, congratulations to our student scholars, student leaders, advisors, and everyone who participated in the 2022 AIChE Annual Student Conference!