By Michele Tallarita ’12
Hallie Zeller ’12 (Bridgewater, N.J.) likes to understand things, from how they work on the atomic level to what they’re like on gigantic scales. Mechanical engineering, she says, is the best way to gain this understanding.
Zeller recently got to experience the field on a gigantic scale. She, along with Kevin Ling ’12 (Winchester, Mass.), presented research at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) annual student conference in Minneapolis, Minn. Zeller took home first prize in her division for her research on biofilms, while Ling placed second in his division for his research on a special kind of polymer.
“The conference was a large gathering of really smart people,” says Ling, a chemical engineering major. “It is just really cool to see what is happening currently in the world of science and some of the new and exciting things people are discovering.”
The AIChE conference is a four-day event of career information, social events, competitions, and fun activities. Students from more than 100 schools attend, along with AIChE leaders and industry professionals from numerous engineering specialties.
Zeller’s project studied the effects of various environmental conditions on the mechanical properties of biofilms, a sort of coating that forms on the cells of microorganisms. The project summed up the work she had done as an EXCEL Scholar and as part of her honors thesis student under the guidance of James Ferri, associate professor and head of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
Ling’s project involved a unique polymer brush that has the ability to change shape at a certain temperature, allowing whatever cells have grown on it to be scraped off as one cohesive layer.
“This monolayer can be used as a skin graft or for other biomedical applications,” he says. “This is unique from traditional methods of growing cells.”
Ling traveled to Germany for three weeks this summer to do research. As with Zeller, his project involved work he had done as an EXCEL Scholar and as part of his honors thesis under the guidance of Lauren Anderson, assistant professor chemical and biomolecular engineering.
Both Ling and Zeller feel more prepared for graduate studies after having attended the conference. “As a grad student, you are constantly presenting your work, either in poster or oral presentations. Presenting my poster showed me what life will be like later down the road,” says Ling.
Zeller also has performed research on blood flow in arteries with Jennifer Rossmann, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and interned with Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, a polymer processing company.
Ling looks forward to a career in biomedical engineering.
“There is a goal to continue improving the quality of life for everyone,” he says. “I believe that advancing the field of biomedical engineering produces goodness in the world, and I consider this to be my passion.”