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Chemical engineering major Gabriella Engelhart ’05, recipient of the national Goldwater and Udall Scholarships, is spending two weeks in Germany to conduct research with a Lafayette professor as part of her yearlong honors thesis.

A Marquis Scholar, Engelhart is joining James K. Ferri, assistant professor of chemical engineering, at the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interface Science in Golm-Potsdam, Germany, near Berlin. Ferri, who is directing Engelhart’s honors research, received a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation that is supporting 18 months of research at the institute over three years.

Engelhart presented her research in November at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in Austin, Texas, earning second place in the poster competition.

She is working on the synthesis and characterization of nanocomposite particles through emulsion polymerization and the self-assembly of microgels from these nanoparticles for controlled release of therapeutic agents. She arrived in Germany Jan. 8 and will stay until Jan. 22.

Engelhart was one of two Lafayette students, and among 80 students nationally, to receive the Udall Scholarship, which provides $5,000 for the 2004-05 academic year. She is among six Lafayette students in the past two years to receive the Goldwater Scholarship, the premier undergraduate award of its type in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering.

Her extra-curricular activities have included involvement in the student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, Lafayette Environmental Awareness and Protection, Residence Hall Council, and club field hockey. She also has served as a host and tour guide for the admissions office.

She spent a summer researching ways of removing color from the wastewater discharge of pulp from paper mills as an EXCEL research assistant to Javad Tavakoli, associate professor and head of chemical engineering. She presented her results at a prior national meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in San Francisco. As a sophomore, she studied under top environmental scientists in the Semester in Environmental Science program at Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Mass.

“I couldn’t have participated in that program if not for Prof. Tavakoli and the personal interest he took in me,” says Engelhart. “Lafayette has so many opportunities available to its students.”

Her current research is related to the work that Ferri is undertaking in Germany, which focuses on the materials science of nano-scale films — those at the atomic, molecular or macromolecular level — synthesized using layer-by-layer adsorption of oppositely charged polymers. These new materials are finding application as sustained drug delivery vehicles; as photonic crystals used in telecommunications, detector technologies, and lasers; and in biotechnology and chemical catalyst areas. His research is aimed at characterizing the kinetics of the self-assembly process in molecules and the mechanical properties of these thin films under dynamic deformation conditions.

Engelhart gained experience in this area while assisting another student mentored by Ferri, chemical engineering major Garret Nicodemus ’04, in his honors thesis that dealt with encapsulating living cells. Nicodemus, who is now studying chemical engineering and bioengineering at the University of Colorado, presented his work at the 18th annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

Other chemical engineering majors who have worked with Ferri in this area include Bill Pyrz ’04, who conducted yearlong honors research on the self-assembly of molecules to determine the effect those structures have on the properties of certain compounds. He used computer simulations to study the behavior of model chemical molecules called dimers by varying their density and interaction energies. Pyrz presented findings that may have implications for a number of technologies at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in Indianapolis and at an American Institute of Chemical Engineers conference hosted by Cornell University.

Jessica Whitman ’05 (Fruitland, Md.) used a mathematical method called lattice Monte Carlo simulation in research with Ferri to learn what roles molecularinteractions play in how chemical compounds assemble themselves. She collaborated with Ferri through Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend.

Lauren Sefcik ’04 (Saddle Brook, N.J.), another student mentored by Ferri, was the second Lafayette chemical engineering major in two years to receive a Graduate Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, which she is using to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.

“[He was] a role model for my academic future,” she says. “His creative and dedicated teaching style has caused me to work harder and search further for the answers to my questions. He definitely presents his students with an intellectual challenge that, if accepted with the right attitude, will lead to successThe presence of dedicated and attentive faculty at Lafayette, such as Professor Ferri, allows students to recognize their potential and be rewarded for their achievements.”

Ferri also worked with Daniel Connolly ’02(Meadville, Pa.), who in his senior year as a chemical engineering major won first prize for his research paper at the mid-Atlantic regional conference of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Connolly presented his work at the institute’s national meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., where it earned second place in the AIChE National Student Paper Competition. He and Ferri also presented the paper at Rohm and Haas in Spring House, Pa., and at the monthly meeting of the Lehigh Valley Section of the Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation Society. The paper was based on a yearlong research project that Connolly completed under Ferri’s supervision, which allowed him to graduate with honors.

“He always took the time to go through a derivation or a concept and explain it when I didn’t understand it completely,” says Connolly, a process engineer in digital imaging for Rohm and Haas Co.

Ferri has published his research in AIChE conference and meeting proceedings and publications such as Advances in Colloid and Interface Science, Colloids and Surfaces, Journal of Colloid and Interface Science, and Chemical Engineering Education. He received recognition as coauthor of the paper judged third best among those submitted to an American Society for Engineering Education regional meeting in West Point, N.Y. He has given talks at AIChE annual meetings, ACS Colloid and Surface Science Symposia, a Society of Formulation Chemists Meeting, and a forum sponsored by BASF Corp. in Germany.

A former research chemist at American Cynamid in Princeton, N.J., Ferri joined Lafayette’s faculty in January 2001. His teaching areas include momentum, heat, and mass transfer, separations processes, and laboratory applications. His research interests include interfacial phenomena, bioengineering, and materials science. He received a bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.

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