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Spotlight on Undergraduate Research


Undergraduate Student Sustainable Biomaterials Omkar Betageri testing the effect of cellulose nanocrystals on the pH of cell culture medium

July 30, 2012 – This summer, the department hosted again several undergraduate researchers in its labs. Associate Professor Maren Roman supervised two projects under the NSF-funded Summer Undergraduate Research Program of the Macromolecules and Interfaces Institute. Omkar Betageri, a rising junior and biomedical engineering major at the University of Connecticut, studied the bioactivity and cytotoxicity of surface-oxidized cellulose nanocrystals for applications in bioresorbable bone scaffolds. Frances Ampah, a rising senior and pre-med psychology major at Virginia Tech, investigated a new method of cellulose nanocrystal functionalization for drug targeting of cancer cells. Both students worked closely with their graduate mentors, Jung Ki Hong and Shuping Dong, respectively. Omkar gloriously concluded the summer research program by winning the “Best Scientific Lecture” award. Congratulations, Omkar!


Students SBIO Frances Ampah and Shuping Dong Frances Ampah (right) with her graduate mentor Shuping Dong.

Professor Kevin Edgar supervised three projects under the SURP program. Earl Ritchie, a rising senior chemistry major from Clemson University, worked with graduate mentor Haoyu Liu to synthesize novel cellulose derivatives that have proved to be superior drug delivery polymers. Michelle Mahoney, a rising senior biochemistry major at VT, worked with mentor Junia Pereira to synthesize new derivatives of the polysaccharide pullulan, developing novel synthetic routes and making some very promising new pullulan derivatives. Josh Moore, a rising senior biology major at St. Paul’s, worked with mentor Sidd Pawar to synthesize a series of novel polysaccharides for a joint project with the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine on diabetes treatment.


Undergraduate SBIO Josh Moore Josh Moore

Part of the NSF sponsored Bioprocess Engineering program, Mandy Liu (Chemical Engineering rising sophomore, Pennsylvania University) and Andrew Seiden-Plaut (Chemical Engineering, rising junior, Cornel University) participated in research on strong electroactive nanocomposite films of graphite and nanocellulose. The students worked for 12 weeks with Dr. Renneckar’s research group; during their time they synthesized nanocellulose and used state-of-the-art analytical equipment to characterize and measure the properties of these films. The films were stronger than many other polymeric materials, while displaying enhanced conductivity. These materials have great potential as electrodes in Lithium ion batteries or even as conductive textiles. 

Professor Chip Frazier sponsored three NSF undergraduate projects. Also as part of the NSF sponsored Bioprocess Engineering program, Kirsten Parratt (rising senior Chemical & Biological Engineering, Princeton University) and Nicole WongK (rising sophomore Chemical Engineering, University of Southern California) worked as a team to develop novel rheological methods to analyze switchgrass for renewable energy applications.


Undergraduate Students Sustainable Biomaterials Kirsten Parratt (left) and Nicole WongK and Christa Weaver

Christa Weaver (rising sophomore Sustainable Biomaterials, VT) was sponsored by the NSF and the Wood-Based CompositesCenter to develop new methods to analyze natural formaldehyde emissions from lignocellulosic biomass, like wood and grasses. The members of Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design have been sponsoring two projects under a new summer research internship program.


Students SBIO Packaging Jason Hoepker (left), Rosemary Masser (center), and Zack Shiner (right) during the final grading process

Zack Shiner (rising junior), Rosemary Masser (rising Senior), and Jason Hoepker (rising sophomore) from the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials at Virginia Tech were working with Dr. Laszlo Horvath to investigate the effect of air circulation in shipping trailers on mold growth using green hardwood pallets. The outcome of the research could generate a commercially available solution to prevent mold growth during transportation and storage of green hardwood pallets.



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