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Tina Huang, assistant professor of chemistry, and James K. Ferri, assistant professor of chemical engineering, have received a $210,549 National Science Foundation grant that is enhancing undergraduate research and teaching capabilities in an area within the increasingly important field of nanotechnology, in which research is conducted and components are constructed on the molecular level.

The grant funded the purchase of equipment for nano-scale surface science – the investigation of the phenomena at the interfaces of air-liquid, liquid-liquid, liquid-solid, and air-solid. Huang has been using an advanced microscope with atomic force, scanning tunneling, and electrochemical capabilities to study biologically and chemically modified surfaces at the liquid-solid and air-solid interfaces. Ferri will use a scientific instrument called a tensiometer to examine ultrathin films at the air-liquid and liquid-liquid interfaces.

“Nanotechnology is an exciting and thriving research field that is multi-disciplinary in nature,” says Huang. “The advances in instrumentation such as atomic force microscopy have brought about a flurry of research activities in nanoscale sciences. The nanoscale study of modified surfaces and their interfacial properties is an important area of research and contributes a large amount of scientific knowledge toward the field of nanotechnology.”

The equipment will be used in classroom laboratory settings to provide insight into principles of interface science and nanotechnology and offer students hands-on experience and training with state-of-the-art instrumentation. It also will foster interdisciplinary collaborations between the engineering disciplines and chemical sciences, as well as enable faculty members in the chemistry and chemical engineering departments to further their research and provide additional research opportunities for undergraduate students.

Huang has used the equipment in research with chemistry majors Matthew Coughlin ’07 (Boyertown, Pa.), a Trustee Scholar, and William McNamara ’06(Scranton, Pa.). The students presented their research last month in the main program of the 229th American Chemical Society (ACS) National Meeting in San Diego, a bi-annual conference attended by over 14,000 scientists from around the world. McNamara described the surfaces of self-assembled alkanethiols on gold using electrochemistry and Coughlin presented his study of polymer-modified surfaces using atomic force microscopy. The surfaces that both students are investigating have applications in the areas of nano- and molecular electronics and biosensor development.

The students have collaborated with Huang through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which 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.

“The EXCEL project has given me a chance to use my academic knowledge in a more practical and applicable situation,” says McNamara, who hopes to attend medical school to study oncological pathology, where he would research the development, causes, and consequences associated with tumors.“It has given me a taste of what it is like to be a research scientist while helping sharpen my laboratory skills.”

“I have been pleased with the opportunities at Lafayette,” he adds. “With the opportunity to do graduate-level research and the availability of valuable programs like study abroad, Lafayette gives the small-college feel while having large-university resources.”

Huang has published her research in scientific journals and collaborated with professors at institutions such as the Institute of Biology and Biochemistry at the University of Potsdam in Germany. She served as postdoctoral associate and research chemist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology from 1999 until joining the Lafayette faculty in fall 2003. She received her Ph.D. in analytical chemistry (with bioanalytical emphasis) from the University of Kansas in 1998 and earned a B.S. in chemistry from Bethel College.

Ferri’s research includes a collaboration with chemical engineering major Gabriella Engelhart ’05, recipient of a three-year Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation and the national Goldwater and Udall Scholarships. She spent two weeks with him at the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interface Science in Golm-Potsdam, Germany this past January to work on her yearlong honors thesis. 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. 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.

Her 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 EXCEL Scholars research with Ferri to learn what roles molecularinteractions play in how chemical compounds assemble themselves.

Like Engelhart, Lauren Sefcik ’04 (Saddle Brook, N.J.) was a chemical engineering major mentored by Ferri and received a Graduate Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, which she is using to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.

Ferri also worked with Daniel Connolly ’02(Meadville, Pa.), a process engineer in digital imaging for Rohm and Haas Co., 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.

Ferri has published his research in AIChE conference and meeting proceedings and scientific journals. 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. He received a bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.

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