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Chemical engineering major Kaushal Silwal ’07 (Katmandu, Nepal) has barely begun his college career, but he’s already helped to develop curriculum for incoming students.

Silwal used a state-of-the-art airlift bioreactor to grow yeast and produce ethanol. It’s an experiment that will be used by about 150 members of this fall’s first-year class.

“Generally, yeasts do not produce ethanol, but when you grow them in the air, they do,” says Silwal, who is minoring in bioengineering. “I searched for the rate of ethanol growth in the yeast.”

He conducted the research under the guidance of Polly Piergiovanni, associate professor of chemical engineering, through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars Program. In EXCEL, students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

“We got a new airlift bioreactor, which is a very simple reactor,” Piergiovanni says. “There are no moving parts, it’s easy to scale up and easy to use, but there haven’t been many studies on it. So Kaushal helped me find how to make yeast grow the most or produce the most ethanol…The end result is the knowledge the students this fall will have gained.”

As the new students run the experiment, they will learn how to use a bioreactor and model the result, as they will do if they pursue engineering careers, she explains.

Silwal will submit a paper based on his work for publication and presentation at a national conference.

“[The work was] quite elementary, but definitely the foundation for my future and what I want to do,” he says. “It interested me very much because I’ve always wanted to go into biomedical or biochemical engineering — it’s a very new field and emerging very quickly in medicine and also business.”

He also learned the basic techniques required to perform experiments in the laboratory, which will help him in whatever his career path turns out to be, Piergiovanni says. As Silwal continually adjusted the experiment until he achieved the desired result, he learned the amount of patience and perseverance required to conduct research, she says.

According to Silwal, he became dogged in his experiments; perhaps the biggest challenge was dealing with initial results that did not match expectations.

Silwal is a member of the staff of The Lafayette and the student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineering and sings in the Concert Choir.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the last annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News