Student News

Two Undergraduate Membrane Sciences Researchers from Chemical Engineering Receive Prestigious NSF Recognition

In the spring of 2015 the National Science Foundation honored two students from the College of Engineering, Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering under the aegis of Professor Dibakar Bhattacharyya and his graduate student mentors Minghui Gui, Li Xiao, and Sebastian Hernandez. Joe Papp receiving the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship Award; and, Doug Davenport received honorable-mention recognition from the graduate fellowship program. Both student researchers were supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF)-KY EPSCoR program, the National Institute of Health-National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH-NIEHS) Superfund Research Center (SRC).


Chemical engineering student Joseph Papp received the prestigious 2015 National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship Award and will be starting his Ph.D. in chemical engineering this fall at University of California at Berkley. Joe was homeschooled in Jessamine County/Nicholasville just down the road from the University of Kentucky. Joe’s major began as a Chemical Engineering student and very early in his course decisions he pondered pre-med; then, fortunately after his introduction to water purification by Professor Dibakar Bhattacharyya’s (DB), his chemical engineering professor, Joe switch to all chemical engineering studies and never regretted his career goal decision. As a sophomore Joe studied at the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Excellence and in 2013 he was accepted by the UK REU program and in 2014 went to Los Alamos, NM to further his engineering training. His interest is in functionalized membranes for removal of toxic chemicals in water. Joe explains his research as follows: Throughout my time in Professor DB's lab I have worked on a few different projects, the majority of which have involved functionalized membranes for water remediation purposes. I have devoted the largest portion of my time to developing iron nanoparticle functionalized membranes for the capture and removal of heavy metals from water. Specifically, we have found great success in the detoxification of selenium contaminated water with this method. I have also performed characterization of membranes for the correlation between polymer loading and flux performance for many of our commonly used membranes. More recently, my research has been focused on methods for the degradation of toxic acids by use of Fenton's reagent in combination with membrane functionalization.

S. Hernández, Joseph K. Papp, and D. Bhattacharyya, “Iron-Based Redox Polymerization of Acrylic Acid for Direct Synthesis of Hydrogel/Membranes and Metal Nanoparticles for Water Treatment”, IEC Res, 53 (3), 1132-1142 (2014).

Gui, M., Papp, Joe, Colburn, A., Meeks, N., Weaver, B., Wilf, I., and Bhattacharyya, D., “Engineered Iron/Iron Oxide Functionalized Membranes for Selenium and Other Toxic Metal Removal from Power Plant Scrubber Water”, J. Membrane Science, 488, 79-91 (March 3, 2015).             

Chemical engineering student Doug Davenport received honorable mention for the prestigious 2015 National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship. Doug is from Englewood, Ohio (near Dayton). He will be starting his Ph.D. in chemical engineering this fall at Yale University, Connecticut. He realized he was interested in hands-on activity as to what type and why reactions occur. He recalls a time when he was seven or eight years old during summer break when he decided that he could sprinkle some warm water on a hot lightbulb. Well, not realizing that the hot lightbulb would shatter, began his curiosity for science after having this hands-on home experiment. Early in elementary and middle-school he enjoyed math and science as having a clear solution to everything and that was necessary for him. Then, his high school science teacher, Bill Patrizio really made chemistry come-alive challenging Doug by providing him knowledge and supplies to further his curiosity for an end-result. Doug began to believe he could keep this interest alive and continue pursuing chemical engineering in college. His chemical engineering curriculum made an impact when he began his “research” in Professor Dibakar Bhattacharyya’s lab. He could now apply what he learned in the classroom talk that knowledge to the membrane lab, realizing as he explains, that during his research in the area of membranes, he could focus on the development of how thick-and-spongy polymer membranes happens. He goes on to say, the membranes we experimented with in the membrane lab are essentially plastic materials which can be used to separate certain toxic substances from water. Materials are most commonly removed from water if they are too large to fit into pores on the membranes surface. Additionally, we can modify the pores of the membranes to add new polymer or reactive iron nanoparticles so the membranes can not only remove species from water by size but also by reaction. Doug’s experiment showed how this can be used to adsorb, or trap, certain toxic organics in the water or to react with compounds in the water to degrade them and make them, for example, less toxic. He continued to focus his research on making a membranes which is thicker and spongier than they ever have been before. The reason for this is to allow for higher capacity metal absorption or for direct synthesis nanoparticles in membranes. Therefore, he has been producing a spongy membranes and found great success creating new types of functioned membranes which has greater abilities to purify water in certain ways than other non-spongy structure materials.

Doug’s research poster placed second at the November, 2014 AIChE meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, in February, 2015; he had the opportunity to present his research at the ECI in Sicily, Italy; and also presented his oral research paper on "Spongy and Responsive PVDF-Based Membranes for Water Related Applications" April 11, 2015 at the AIChE Southern Regional meeting in Tampa, Florida. In the oral paper competition he was presented the 2nd place award at this meeting.

Doug was awarded the Outstanding Senior Award by the Chemical and Materials Engineering at the banquet, April 21, 2015.

Xiao, L., Davenport, Doug, Ormsbee, L., and Bhattacharyya, D., “Polymerization and Functionalization of Membrane Pores for Water Related Applications”, IEC Res (Special Issue on Scott Fogler Festschrift), Invited manuscript, ASAP, DOI: 10.1021/ie504149t (Dec 2014)