Month: August 2013

REU Student Innovators Wow Business Community

Screen shot 2013-06-26 at 1.29.22 PMRepublished with permission of Momentum,
a School of Engineering electronic publication.


reu3The Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program provides undergraduates with exposure to a stimulating research environment.  The students participating in the REU program had the opportunity to present their work during the July 26 Innovation Connection academic/industry networking event hosted at Nerac in Tolland and co-sponsored by Nerac and OpenSky. Nerac president Kevin Bouley, who hosts a number of UConn start-ups in his Tolland facility, noted “This event showcases the collaborations between students, faculty and the private sector.  It was very interesting to see RPM Sustainable Technologies participate, given that they are located in the Nerac building as a launching pad for their commercial enterprise.”

Before an audience of entrepreneurs, small business gurus, state government officials, IP experts, faculty and members of the investment community, each young researcher/entrepreneur delivered a two-minute “elevator pitch” presentation of his/her work and then spoke in greater detail with attendees during the informal networking event.  The forum enabled the students to test their mettle in the real-world situation faced by entrepreneurs every day.

While all REU programs entail scholarly research, this innovation-oriented REU requires the students to participate in a business and entrepreneurship seminar taught by professor Richard Dino of the School of Business. Furthermore, the students’ research was co-sponsored by commercial businesses – a novel twist that underscores the commercial intent of the research challenges they addressed while working in the UConn faculty laboratories.

The REU theme was conceptualized by Dr. Jeffrey McCutcheon, assistant professor of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, and Entrepreneur-in-Residence Robin Bienemann, and NSF began funding the project in 2012.  In his introductory remarks to the audience, Dr. McCutcheon explained the genesis of the Innovation REU and noted that his goal was to “introduce the students to applied science and the way products make it to market.”

The eight innovation REU students and their projects are summarized below.

reu15-300x220Joseph Amato (Univ. of Minnesota – Twin Cities) researched reactive spray deposition technology for the one-step production of catalysts and electrodes in fuel cells. His research aim was to improve the efficiency of proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells for the fuel cell and fuel-cell automotive markets. Sponsor: Proton OnSite; faculty mentor: Dr. Radenka Maric (Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering). Poster.

Isaac Batty (California State Univ. – Long Beach) researched bio-oil production from the fast catalytic pyrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass (trees).  His objective was to investigate the effect of temperature and various catalyst/biomass ratios on the quality of bio-oil produced from biomass. Sponsor: W.R. Grace & Co.; faculty mentor: Dr. George Bollas (Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering). Poster.

Ryan Carpenter (Univ. of Buffalo)designed an experimental apparatus enabling researchers to observe the antimicrobial susceptibility of multispecies biofilms. Biofilms are common (e.g., dental plaques) and often contain multiple species of bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus. Biofilms are a costly problem for many industries, including food processing, oil recovery and medical implant operations.  Sponsor: BASF; faculty mentor: Dr. Leslie Shor (Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering). Poster.

William Hale (UConn) sought to understand whether acetate and butyrate influence the anaerobic fermentation of waste glycerol – a byproduct from biodiesel production – into 1,3-propanediol. 1,3-propanediol is used in the manufacture of polyesters, solvents, lubricants and other products. Sponsor: RPM Sustainable Technologies; faculty advisor: Dr. Richard Parnas (Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering). Poster.

Justine Jesse (Univ. of Massachusetts) researched heat treatments that produce the strongest possible electrospun nanofibers, used in water filtration and industrial plants, without compromising performance. Sponsor: KX Technologies; faculty mentor: Dr. Jeffrey McCutcheon (Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering). Poster.

Kyle Karinshak (Univ. of Oklahoma) researched the photocatalytic degradation of a specific fluorescent dye in aqueous environments through the use of a titanium oxide/metal doped catalyst. Kyle found titanium oxide/metal-doped fly ash to be an effective catalyst enabling the degradation of the dye, which is released from textile plants and inhibits the passage of sunlight through water/ Sponsor: VeruTEK Corp.; faculty mentor: Dr. Steven Suib (Chemistry; Institute for Materials Science). Poster.

Zachariah Rueger (Iowa State Univ.) sought to maximize the specific surface area of activated carbon nanofiber nonwoven mats, which are used in water purification and for electricity generation in certain fuel cells. A greater surface area allows greater volumes of wastewater to be purified quickly. Sponsor: KX Technologies; faculty mentor: Dr. Jeffrey McCutcheon (Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering). Poster.

Kyle Stachowiak (Vanderbilt Univ.) researched techniques to optimize the atomic layer deposition of copper on a component, the rectenna, used to enhance the performance of solar cells. A rectenna collects solar radiation and converts it to usable energy. Techniques for applying copper more reliably will improve the efficiency of solar cells. Sponsor: Scitech Associates LLC; faculty mentor: Dr. Brian Willis (Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering). Poster.

Grad Student Spotlight: Jason White

By Jayna Miller

JasonWhite2The chemical engineering graduate program at the University of Connecticut is comprised of bright, innovative leaders who are motivated by change and challenge. The program offers the opportunity for students to enhance their skills and develop their potential.

One student who can attest to the merits of this program is Jason White. Jason completed his undergraduate degree at UConn, and decided he wanted to continue his research here after enjoying his undergraduate experience. Throughout his time at UConn, Jason has worked with Dr. Ranjan Srivastava on analyzing biological systems and developing computational tools that deal with human health-related problems. These analyses have implications towards personalized medicine for each patient.

“Our goal is to use computational tools to understand how a disease progresses and to analyze whether treatments for patients are optimal,” Jason says. Genetic algorithms are one such method that Jason employs to develop mathematical models of biological systems from experimental data sets. He anticipates that these models could be used to help personalize medicinal treatments on a patient-by-patient basis. For instance, he created a mathematical model of an oral mucositis system, which can be simulated to help predict the outcome and potential treatment options for patients suffering with this disease.

In addition to his research, Jason has also been involved in a number of campus activities. His favorite was the GK-12 Program sponsored by the National Science Foundation, which allowed him to work once a week with technical high school students.

“I enjoyed the GK-12 experience – it gave me the freedom to develop lessons and projects, but also to continue my research as well,” he says. Through this program, he was able to work with students to build a compost water-heating system, which was presented at Lemelson-MIT’s Eureka Fest. Jason has also helped motivate students to get involved in engineering by tutoring undergraduates from Grasso Tech and by serving as a TA at UConn. In the future, Jason plans to pursue these interests and become a professor, so he can maintain the balance between teaching and his research.

During his time at UConn, Jason has earned a number of accolades for his work, such as a Unilever Scholarship, an Arnold Griffin Scholarship, and an NSF GK-12 Fellowship. He has also published two proceedings in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.