CEMS undergraduate Michelle Quan selected for "Future Leaders in Chemical Engineering Symposium"

Michelle Quan (ChE, MSE '23) was among 24 participants selected to attend the recent "Future Leaders in Chemical Engineering Symposium" at North Carolina State University. With over 70 applicants nationwide, those selected to participate in this highly selective research symposium, organized by the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University, boasted an average grade point average of 3.95 and a publication record of at least one paper.

At the symposium, Quan presented research on the synthesis of iron oxide doped silica nanoparticles for applications in tunable materials. The research was conducted under the mentorship of CEMS Assistant Professor Michelle Calabrese and Christopher Neal, a fifth-year chemical engineering PhD candidate in the Calabrese group.

The research, “Analysis of Iron(iii) Doped Silica Nanorods Synthesized with Various Iron Reagents” indicates that silica nanorods integrated into materials like polymer matrices may result in new or improved material properties. Mechanical strength, thermal and electrical conductivity, and other desirable properties can be enhanced by uniformly aligning nanorods. Magnetic fields are a promising and non-destructive way to orient nanorods embedded in a system, but silica itself has low magnetic susceptibility. 

This work investigates multiple reagents to synthesize iron-doped silica nanorods to increase the magnetic rearrangement of otherwise diamagnetic silica nanorods. A variety of nanorods are synthesized using different ratios of tetraethyl orthosilicate (TEOS) and iron-containing reagents. These nanorods are analyzed with scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and x-ray diffractometry (XRD). When compared to a control spectra of magnetite nanoparticles, some of the nanorods exhibit peaks characteristic of Fe3O4 (magnetite). However, SEM images indicate an amalgamation of rod shapes and irregular clumps. Samples synthesized with iron(iii) ethoxide and lower TEOS ratios demonstrate the most promise of compositional homogeneity and iron incorporation. 

Future work should harness analysis techniques that can provide compositional data of specific regions, such as backscattered electron imaging (BEI) or energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDX/EDS).

Quan will graduate in May 2023 as a double major in chemical engineering and materials science and engineering. She plans on attending graduate school to focus on polymer sustainability (bio-based polymer alternatives to petroleum-based polymer products for industry and consumer applications). Ultimately, Quan hopes to pursue a career in academia to advance her research aspirations and educate the next generation of scientists and engineers.

Congratulations Michelle!