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Marquis Scholar Alanna Cleary ’03 (Bloomsburg, Pa.) is working to develop a solvent that will allow for deactivation and clean-up of dangerous chemical munitions in landfills and other waste sites.

A chemical engineering major, Cleary is working under the guidance of James Ferri, assistant professor of chemical engineering, who asked her to join in the effort as part of her honors thesis research. Cleary’s year-long thesis, which will be completed in the spring, will examine the conditions necessary for the use of supercritical (highly pressurized) carbon dioxide as a solvent for the safe extraction of buried explosive materials such as munitions at Indian Head, Md., where the U.S. Navy has been testing explosives and burying the waste since 1890.

Ferri received a grant earlier this year from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst for a three-month research visit to the Max Planck Institut für Kolloid und Grenzflächenforschung in Golm-Potsdam, Germany. He has published his research in conference and meeting proceedings of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and several other academic journals.

Cleary, who previously took two classes with Ferri, notes that he is dedicated to both his students and his research.

“Professor Ferri is the best adviser I could imagine,” she says. “I am extremely happy that he chose to work with me. He is one of the most brilliant chemical engineers that I have met, and I am enthusiastic about having his expertise on my side for this project. I don’t believe that I would ever be able to get as much faculty attention and advice for such a project if I weren’t at a school like Lafayette.”

This semester, Cleary is using a computer simulation to find combinations needed to form micelles, or groups of molecules that form into a tiny ball, in supercritical carbon dioxide.

“These micelles increase the ability of the carbon dioxide to act as a solvent,” she explains.

Next month, Cleary will travel to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where she will use a high-pressure chamber to collect data on supercritical carbon dioxide.

Secretary of Lafayette Environmental Awareness and Protection, Cleary says she is interested in this project’s potential to help the environment.

“It’s somewhat of a new topic,” she says. “And it’s just great to be able to do something that has positive implications for the future.”

Ferri says that Cleary, who began the semester reading current research on her topic, is an “excellent student” who is approaching her work with determination. “She’s very diligent,” he says.

Cleary got her first taste of research during her first year at Lafayette, when she conducted EXCEL Scholars research in chemistry. In EXCEL, students collaborate closely with faculty on research while earning a stipend. She has also completed two internships with Merck & Co., Inc. in Elkton, Va. During the summer of 2001, she worked in technical operations, helping to design improvements for a new process. Last summer, she worked on process improvements for new products to help people with weak immune systems.

Cleary is president of the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the campus chapter of American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and Newman Association. She also serves as treasurer and plays clarinet in Pep Band and plays bassoon in the Concert Band, Woodwind Quartet, Orchestra, and Marquis Players pit orchestra. In addition, she is secretary of Questioning Established Sexual Taboos (QuEST), organized United Against Hate Week 2002, and has participated in the Lehigh Canal Trail cleanup effort and the Bushkill Stream monitoring project.

Categorized in: Academic News