Month: September 2013

UConn Student Receives Presidential Scholar Enrichment Award

By Jayna Miller

Rodney Sutherland, an undergraduate researcher working with CBE assistant professor Dr. Anson Ma, is the recipient of a Presidential Scholar Enrichment Award. The Presidential Scholars Program was established by the University of Connecticut to support educational enrichment in a variety of subject areas, providing up to $2,500 for undergraduate students.

The grant will be used to fund Sutherland’s research on constructing an experimental platform for understanding the fundamentals of inkjet and 3D printing. The research aims to improve the reliability and the resolution of existing printing technology for digital fabrication. The project will impact many practical applications – most notably, perhaps, is the potential for flexible electronics.

Flexible electronics are elastic, bendable devices that may have several advantages in applications such as cell phones, cameras, and e-book readers.

Another promising application relates to the medical field. Sensors, for example, can be printed on the skin as a “temporary tattoo” to monitor the health of patients. Similarly, skin grafts may also be printed to accelerate healing in the case of burns or extensive wounds.

Lastly, with improvements of printing reliability and resolution, it may one day be possible to use this technology to print organs. This means that essential organs can be designed and manufactured in the lab, and patients in need of a transplant will not have to endure a long waiting period. Dr. Anson Ma is currently advising two CBE Senior Design teams working on the 3D printing of artificial kidneys.

Grad Student Spotlight: Yixin Liu

By Jayna Miller

yixin1At the University of Connecticut, Chemical Engineering graduate students enjoy access to an outstanding combination of academic excellence, student resources, financial support, and a vibrant community.

For grad student Yixin Liu, this is especially true. “I really appreciate that the program gave me so many opportunities to attend different conferences to present my work and communicate with others, such as AIChE annual meeting every year,” she says. She also enjoys the setting of UConn’s campus – which is very different from her hometown.

Yixin moved to Connecticut in 2010 after completing her undergraduate education at Zhejiang University, which is near the east seacoast of China. UConn was her first offer, and after admiring the respected graduate program and the helpful financial support she would receive, she decided to choose UConn to complete her Ph.D.

During her time at UConn, Yixin has worked with Dr. Yu Lei on the development of a high temperature gas sensor which will improve combustion efficiency.
“Real-time, in-situ monitoring and control of combustion-related gases are a top priority in many industrial applications, such as power plant, automotive, metal processing and casting, chemical and petrochemical industries,” she says. These high temperature gas sensors are designed to monitor gas concentrations after combustion and to optimize the combustion process via feedback system, which can improve the combustion efficiency, save more energy, and also reduce the emission of pollutants.

“Our goal is to develop sensors which can be operated right after combustion, so we can immediately get the full picture of combustion conditions and provide more precise control of combustion,” Yixin says.

Yixin’s work on this research throughout her graduate career has been publicly recognized. She has published 10 papers in various scientific journals, four of which she was the lead author. Following her graduation this fall, Yixin plans to work in industry, preferably at a large company. She would especially enjoy continuing her research in a practical, applied setting.

Research Study Targets Rice Husks for Chemical Extraction

By Jayna Miller

luyi1Dr. Luyi Sun, an associate professor at UConn, is leading a research group in an EPA-sponsored project that is investigating the use of rice husks to produce two valuable chemicals, lignocellulose and silica.

“Rice husk biomass is a massive byproduct from rice milling. Applications of rice husks have been very limited, and they are often considered biowaste,” Dr. Sun says. Through  this study, he plans to extract both lignocellulose and silica from the rice husks to take full advantage of the rice husk biomass.

Previous studies in this area have focused on the extraction of silica from rice husks, while the lignocellulose was ordinarily burnt and thus wasted. Dr. Sun’s approach is unique two ways: (1) it involves a comprehensive use of rice husks, obtaining both lignocellulose and silica; (2) the mild treatment maintains the original microstructure of silica in rice husks, leading to the synthesis of high quality porous silica nanoparticles.luyi2

“The lignocellulose is extracted by dissolving the rice husks in ionic liquids, and then the chemical is separated and collected. The remaining residue after extraction, which contains a high concentration of silica, is thermally treated to synthesize amorphous porous silica nanoparticles with a high purity and surface area,” Dr. Sun explains. After extraction, lignocellulose can be used as an ingredient for biofuel and paper, while silica is a useful component in many products and the chemical industry. This research is expected to promote effective utilization of rice husk biomass globally in the near future. Some of the benefits of implementing this process include saving landfill space, minimizing pollution, and profits from the extracted lignocellulose and silica.

This project has been ongoing for two years under the sponsorship of the US EPA. Dr. Sun has published four research articles relating to this work. He will work with several graduate and undergraduate students on continuing this project, and the research opportunity will be available as a capstone class. For more information on Dr. Sun’s research, please visit: