Senior Design Day 2015

By Sydney Souder

Team 10 CaptionMay 1, 2015 marked the School of Engineering’s much anticipated Senior Design Day. The Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering showcased the projects of 13 teams at the event, a school-wide poster competition held on the floor of the Gampel Pavilion arena.

Each team of students spent the entirety of their senior year on a single open-ended capstone design project. The teams began their journeys with a written description of their project, and a faculty and an industry advisor to mentor them as they tackled the challenge.

Over the next eight months, students presented multiple oral presentations and submitted a range of written reports. The poster competition is the final step where the student’s designs are summarized on a 2’ by 3’ poster board display for the public.

On this ultimate design day, both the posters and students are judged. This year, CBE was pleased to host 14 industry experts to judge the posters. Half of these judges were UConn chemical engineering alumni. Each team of students had their poster and verbal pitch evaluated five times.

Team1CaptionThis year’s assortment of projects varied from inventing a human habitat on Mars, to designing wastewater treatments for Unilever. Visitors were even treated to samples of sugar-reduced ice cream developed by a student team for UConn’s Dairy Bar. The following teams earned the highest scores:

First place was awarded to Team 10 whose project was titled “Novel Production and Purification of Manganese Dioxide.” The team consisted of Nicole Beauregard, Gianna Credaroli, Andrea DiVenere, Naomi Tennakoon and Abbey Wangstrom, and they were advised by Dr. Bill Mustain. Duracell sponsored their project to produce and characterize a more pure electrolytic manganese dioxide for use in alkaline batteries. By incorporating electrolyte additives, impurities in the material can be decreased. A battery with higher capacity can improve Duracell sales, lessen the environmental burden of battery waste products, and enhance the consumers’ trust in their power.

Team4CaptionSecond place was awarded to Team 1 for their project “Oxygen Generation via CO2 and H2O Splitting for NASA Manned Space Missions.” Thomas Gay, Ari Fischer and Oscar Nordness made up Team 1, and they were advised by Dr. George Bollas. Team 1 used a chemical looping process to implement a metal oxide oxygen carrier for the Oxygen Generation System (OGS) in NASA’s International Space Station. Potential benefits of their system could reduce size and mass of the OGS as well as improve its electrical efficiency.

Third Place was received by Team 4 for their project “Defluoridation of Ethiopian Groundwater for Human Consumption.” Dr. Doug Cooper advised the group of Jack Edmonds, Gabriella Frey and George Shaw. Due to the pressing health concerns from fluoride contaminated water, the goal of their project was to design a cost effective method of removing upwards of 90% of fluoride ions in groundwater used for human consumption. Current methods use imported technologies from China which are expensive and prone to shipping delays, especially in third world countries. Team 4 created a new method to defluoride water using magnesium oxide, a mineral already existing in Ethiopia.

“Design day is wonderful conclusion to the undergraduate journey,” says Dr. Cooper, professor and head of the department. “Our students show off their hard work, and visitors enjoy learning about the creative and sophisticated solutions they have developed.”

Pie a Professor for AIChE

By Sydney Souder

MustainCaptionThe UConn student chapter of AIChE held a “Pie a Professor” fundraiser during the last week of classes this spring. Students lined up on the sunny Wednesday afternoon to let out a little steam on their professors right before the start of finals. The annual fundraiser took place on Fairfield Way, and charged $5 for students to shove a shaving cream pie in the face of the professor of their choice.

Dr. Bill Mustain, Associate Professor and Associate Department Head, is no stranger to the fundraiser. He was a popular target this year, and estimates he was pied “at least twenty-five times.” The good-humored professor went on to add, “I’m always happy to help the students with a good cause.”

AIChE is the world’s leading organization for chemical engineering professionals. “We’re raising money to support student travel to professional AIChE conferences” said Paige Orlofsky, next year’s AIChE chapter president and organizer of this year’s Pie event.  Last fall, the chapter brought home many awards from the 2014 Annual Meeting in Atlanta, and they are planning to be well represented again at this year’s meeting in Salt Lake City.


Bollas Receives Mentorship Excellence Award

By Sydney Souder

BollasCaption1Dr. George Bollas, Assistant Professor of the CBE Department, is the first recipient of the Office of Undergraduate Research’s (OUR) Faculty Mentorship Excellence Award. He received the award at the 18th Annual Frontiers in Undergraduate Research Poster Exhibition on Friday, April 10, 2015.

With this award, OUR recognizes the critically significant role that mentors play in supporting their undergraduates’ research and creative activity. A committee of OUR Peer Research Ambassadors selected one faculty recipient and one graduate student for the Mentorship Excellence Award recognizing their dedication to their students.BollasCaption3

Ari Fischer, one of his mentees who contributed to his nomination, presented the plaque to Dr. Bollas. Fischer commended Dr. Bollas’ extraordinary commitment to challenging and supporting his students. He attributes Dr. Bollas’ influence to helping his mentees achieve their research, personal, and professional goals. Dr. Bollas has helped his students formulate their own research projects, apply for fellowships and publish their own work.

Bollas’ current research group consists of seven Ph.D. students, one Masters student, and 10 undergraduates. Fischer asserts that Dr. Bollas’s dedication is not limited to just those in his lab, but to all of his students; he pushes them to get the most out of their education.

Although honored by his new plaque, Dr. Bollas explained what he considers his real prize. “At the end of the day we’re given the opportunity to spend time with these amazing, fresh minds hungry for knowledge and work, and that is what is most rewarding.”


Engineering Ice Cream

By: William Weir

DairyCaption1What happens when you mix UConn’s renowned Creamery and its top-notch Chemical Engineering department? If things go right, you get an ice cream that forgoes traditional sugar, but still earns a place along with the famously delicious ice creams at the Dairy Bar.

That’s the goal of two student teams working toward Senior Design Day. That event, May 1, is when students in the School of Engineering present their work toward solving a particular problem.  Both teams are working with advisor Anson Ma, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Institute of Materials Science.

DairyCaption2One of the teams met on a recent morning at the UConn Department of Animal Science Creamery in the George White Building. This is where UConn’s ice cream is produced and later sold at the Dairy Bar next door. Bill Sciturro, manager of dairy manufacturing in the Department of Animal Science, helped the team work the batch machine, which freezes the mixture into ice cream. The aptly named machine makes one batch at a time – no more than a half gallon – and is used for testing purposes. Once a new recipe meets Creamery standards, it goes into production and is made with the continuous machine, which operates on a minimum of 50 gallons.

Instead of cane sugar, this team is using erythritol, a natural sweetener derived from corn. They did so after surveys indicated a demand on campus for ice cream with alternative natural sweeteners. Erythritol is up to 70 percent as sweet as table sugar and has almost no calories. Most ice cream companies would call this “sugar-free” for marketing purposes. The students call it “reduced-sugar” because they’re scientists, and they’re counting the sugar that already exists in the milk. Get rid of lactose, they say, and you’re working with a whole other set of circumstances.

DairyCaption3Ice cream’s semi-solid state is the result of a fragile balance of ingredients, and it’s no easy trick to replace old-fashioned sugar and still get the rich taste and texture that makes the Creamery’s ice cream so popular.

“It’s difficult to change the solids, because that changes the freezing point – and that determines the way it behaves as an ice cream,” said Nicholas Fleming, one of the three team members. Too many salts and carbohydrates, he said, and the freezing point becomes too high for conventional freezers. To get it right, the team did a lot of experiments and calculations with heat transfer and ice recrystallization to see how their product fared with the Creamery’s current storage practices.

Considering the complexities of ice cream’s makeup, Ma says he is impressed by the students’ achievements so far. “Both teams have applied what they have learned in their engineering classes to arrive at their final recipe, while being cognizant of the economic feasibility, environmental impact, health, and safety,” he says.

So why ice cream? Using examples from everyday life is one of the most effective ways to engage the younger generation and the general public in science, Ma says: “The ice cream project really satisfies my passions for education, research, and food simultaneously!”

DairyCaption4After finishing the first batch at the Creamery, the team handed out samples to a few observers. Even at the very non-ice cream hour of 9 a.m., it proved a tasty snack – smooth, creamy, and betraying no indication of a non-traditional sweetener. At least to the casual observer. The team members were glad that the erythritol left no chemical hints or after-taste, but they agreed that the batch could use more vanilla. Team member Anh Nguyen said his ice cream palette has become a good deal more discriminating since the start of the project: “I’m a lot more picky.”

For the next batch, team member Leonora Yokubinas was a little more generous with the vanilla extract, which she poured from a gallon jug into a graduated cylinder. They reached a consensus after a second taste test: erythritol-based ice cream is just about consumer-ready.

Ma’s other student team is using Splenda – an artificial sweetener derived from sugar. Team members Ivan Nguyen, Christina Fenny, and Mason Gao say they chose Splenda because it is FDA-approved, and has fewer harmful side effects than other artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame and acesulfame potassium). It’s also 600 times sweeter than sugar, so they don’t need to use much. This also means that there is less solid content in the base composition, however, so large ice crystals can form and make for a less creamy texture.

To address this issue, the team is flash-freezing their mixture with liquid nitrogen. This, they say, allows for some flexibility with the ice cream’s base composition because it freezes the ice cream quickly enough to form extremely small ice crystals – the key to maintaining a smooth texture.

Sciturro is just as invested in these projects as the students; the Dairy Bar could use a low-sugar option. They haven’t offered one in the past, but there have been requests. Rarely do people go to an ice cream parlor specifically for a low-sugar treat, he says, but if someone with special dietary needs comes with their family then it’s great to have that option: “After all, who doesn’t know someone who has a need for low-sugar foods?”

Grad Student Spotlight: Christine Endicott

By Sydney Souder

christine 2Graduate student Christine Endicott is a true UConn Husky. Although a Vermont native, she received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering at UConn in 2008. Now, she’s back and in the second year of her PhD studies. And more? She’s still a Gampel season ticket holder.

“I had such a positive experience here as an undergraduate. I love the campus, and the environment in the Chemical Engineering department.” She adds, “My advisor, Dr. Srivastava, has been a mentor to me since I started at UConn back in 2004, so it was an obvious choice to return and work with him to complete my PhD.

The research performed here at UConn is highly relevant to today’s engineering challenges. Christine is currently trying to develop new antibiotic treatment methods for infectious diseases. “I love that I’m working on the potential next generation of infection control. Antibiotic resistance is a real problem, and the idea that I could save lives is extremely rewarding.”

Christine describes the graduate student environment here as one of comradery and collaboration. She and other students often take breaks together, and use each other’s experiences to help each other view their work in different lights. Pursuing her PhD at UConn has also provided her opportunities to grow outside of the lab. Christine has taught physics at UConn’s summer BRIDGE program, and has gained experience in writing grants by preparing a proposal for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As a National Science Foundation GK12 Fellow, Christine also interacts with students at AI Prince Technical High School in nearby Hartford to stimulate their interest in STEM fields.

“UConn is a great place to pursue a PhD. It has the right combination of great science, professors who care about you as a scientist and as a person, and great college basketball.”




Grad Student Spotlight: Erik Carboni

By Sydney Souder


As he nears the completion of his PhD in chemical engineering, Erik Carboni has had plenty of time to acquaint himself with the useful facilities and knowledgeable staff here at the University of Connecticut. Over the years Erik has learned that if he needs a certain machine or instrument, he can easily find and use it. “If I had to describe UConn in one word, I would say that it is productive.”

The Connecticut native chose UConn knowing it was a strong school for chemical engineering. UConn’s top ranked school of pharmacy was a plus for Erik, since it enabled him to add a pharmaceutical component to his 2

Erik is investigating the flow behavior of nano and micro-particles in blood. The goal of his research is to improve drug delivery to cancerous tumors and other diseases. He finds it rewarding to contribute to treatment therapies. “If we can find the optimal size and shape that leads to maximal margination—which is the movement of particles toward the blood vessel wall—then we can maximize the delivery of nanoparticle drug carriers.”

Last October, Erik presented his work at the Society of Rheology annual meeting in Philadelphia. The talk was titled, “The Rheology of Nanoparticles in Blood for Improved Cancer Therapy.” This research offers a new perspective on mechanisms associated with margination.

Erik treasures the mentorship provided by his Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Anson Ma. “He found a project for me that he knew that I would enjoy working on. He is someone who genuinely cares about his students.”

After receiving his PhD, Erik aspires to a research position at a pharmaceutical company, but would love to teach if the opportunity presented itself.



CBE Undergraduates Win AIChE Poster Prizes

By Sydney Souder

Students of the CBE department excelled at AIChE’s Undergraduate Poster Competition this November. Despite fierce competition among more than 300 student presenters, six UConn Chemical Engineers took home prizes.

The 2014 AIChE (American Institute of Chemical Engineers) Annual Meeting was held in Atlanta, Georgia this year. It is the premier forum for chemical engineers, and academic and industry experts presented developments on a wide range of topics relevant to cutting-edge research, new technologies, and emerging growth areas in chemical engineering.

Over the years, the Undergraduate Poster Session has become one of the highlights of the conference. Competing students each prepared a poster detailing progress and contributions on their independent research projects. During the conference, the students presented their work to individual judges. Over 80 judges were in attendance, all of which were senior AIChE members from academia or industry.

The research categories included: Catalysis and Reaction Engineering; Sustainability; Food, Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology; Separations; Environmental; Education; Fuels, Petrochemicals and Energy; Computing and Process Control; and Materials Engineering and Sciences. Awards were presented to the top posters in each division.

We’re pleased to announce that the following UConn CBE undergraduates won in their divisions:

  • Gabriella Frey – 1st Place in Separations
    “Formulating Draw Solution Mixtures for Forward Osmosis”
  • Gianna Credaroli – 2nd Place in Separations
    “A New Thin Film Composite Membrane”
  • Oscar Nordness – 2nd place in energy fuels and petrochemicals
    “Incorporation of High Pressure CLC into IGCC systems”
  • Abbey Wangstrom – 2nd place in Reaction and Catalysis Engineering
    “High Activity, High Stability Pt/ITO Fuel Cell Catalysts”
  • Clarke Palmer – 3rd Place in Fuels, Petrochemicals, and Energy
    “Reactor Design and Analysis of a Simulated moving Bed Reactor for Chemical-Looping Combustion”
  • Ari Fischer – 3rd Place in Catalysis and Reaction Engineering
    “Thermochemical CO2 and H2O Splitting Via Chemical-Looping with Cerium and Cobalt Mixed Oxides for Oxygen Generation”

After their hard work, the CBE faculty treated our undergraduates to a night on the town.

AIChE Atlanta

Grad Student Spotlight: Jie Qi

TJiehe United States remains the top graduate destination in the world. With superior quality and flexibility in its programs, UConn has everything the best programs have to offer and more.  Third year PhD student Jie Qi stands by her decision to study Chemical Engineering here. “I chose UConn because of its strong reputation as a research University,” she says, “There are many great opportunities available to students including different internships, various options for financial aid, and a great network of alumni.”

Jie is originally from Harbin, China and received her bachelor’s degree at Dalian University of Technology in 2012. Most would consider coming to Connecticut a drastic change, but Jie adjusted to New England easily. “I love the color in fall. Storrs is a good place to study and live.” She adds, “I feel like I’m part of the school, and not just another international student in a city. I can always get help if I need it.”

Her research project under Dr. Brian Willis involves selective area atomic layer deposition (ALD) of copper. “I hope this new technique can help improve solar power technology and make it cost-competitive with fossil fuels.” Jie hopes to be able to apply what she’s learned to help ease the energy crisis by working in industry in the future.

This month Jie will attend her first conference: the AVS International Symposium and Exhibition. She will give a talk about the effects of seed layer properties and reaction conditions on ALD Cu thin films relevant to plasmonic devices.

“The engineering school has helped me develop and grow, and there is a lot of school pride at UConn,” says Jie, “The program is flexible, but challenging. I feel lucky to have the chance to complete my PhD here.”

Student Researchers Win EPA Sustainability Grant

By Sheila Foran

A student team from the University of Connecticut is one of five winners in the Northeast in the Environmental Protection Agency’s P3 student design competition for sustainability research. Their achievement carries a monetary award of up to $15,000 to help fund their work, as well as an opportunity to compete for $90,000 during the second phase of the competition.p3

The goal of UConn’s entry, one of 42 selected nationally, is the development of a cost-effective, environmentally friendly flame retardant to be used in fire prevention and containment. In comparison to existing flame retardants, UConn’s proposal, “Environmentally Friendly Flame Retardants Based on Inorganic Nanosheets,” is designed to have similar or higher performance than products currently in use but with only a minimum release of toxic gases during combustion, and with no leak of toxic chemicals during production, transportation, and use. An additional benefit is that the cost will be similar or lower than that of currently used retardants.

Dr. Luyi Sun, associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, says that current fire retardants have significant environmental and health issues. The product designed by UConn students will be a waterborne, halogen-free coating composed of hundreds of layers of well-aligned inorganic nanosheets that can physically block the heat/oxygen transfer and thus effectively retard flames. Its waterborne nature ensures that no volatile organic compounds will be released during the coating formation process.

The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between students from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, the Institute of Materials Science, and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Team members include Ph.D. candidates Jingjing Liu from Materials Science, and Jingfang Yu, from Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; seniors Lauren Kovacs, Brittany Bendel, and Arie Havasov who are Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering majors; and junior William Masinda, a Materials Science and Engineering major.

The three P’s in the EPA competition’s title stand for People, Prosperity, and the Planet. It is a two-phase team contest, where students initially prepare proposals that compete for funding of up to $15,000 to pursue their research. In April, the funded teams bring their projects to Washington, D.C., where they are judged by a panel of experts convened by the American Association for the Advancement of Science at the annual National Sustainable Design Expo. The winning team will receive a grant of $90,000 to take its design to real-world application.

Grad Student Spotlight: David Gamliel

By Sydney Souder

Gamliel CaptionGraduate students have many reasons to choose UConn, from conducting research in world class facilities, to a welcoming learning environment, and no shortage of school pride (not everyone wins dual National Championships in basketball).

“Don’t go anywhere else!” says second year PhD student David Gamliel of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Graduate Program. David hails from Amherst, Mass., and received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UMass Amherst, but his decision to pursue his PhD in Storrs was simple.

“I picked UConn because I was really interested in energy engineering, and I enjoyed the orientation. I am very lucky I ended up at the Center for Clean and Energy Engineering (C2E2),” he says.

Gamliel Kids CaptionDavid’s faculty advisor is Dr. Julia Valla. His research focus involves converting biomass into energy through pyrolysis. Pyrolysis, which occurs when biomass is brought to elevated temperatures without oxygen, produces an array of useful chemicals. Some of these are the same as those found in gasoline. David is studying the best operating conditions for pyrolysis, and how small scale microreactors can be scaled up to maximize the conversion of biomass to useful products.

“I feel like I am doing meaningful and impactful research,” he says of his work, which can be viewed at “The level of independence given to me as a student researcher was beyond my expectations.”

Another advantage of studying at UConn, David adds, “I really enjoy the opportunities to travel and present my research.” He presented at the ACS Conference in March, and attended the Energy and Fuels section dinner, a great networking event. This November he will present a poster and give a lecture at AIChE in Atlanta.

David is involved outside of the lab, too. He is the treasurer of the Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association, and participates in outreach work. As a GK12 fellow, David shares weekly lessons about science, math and engineering at Wolcott Technical High School in Torrington, Connecticut. He is also an outreach ambassador for C2E2, and has participated in the Joule fellowship program.

“I would like to go into industry,” says David, “But I am still open to the idea of becoming a professor. “