Kinetic research propels career paths
Malaika Alphons’ Summer Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship (SURA) could serve her as a chemical or biomedical researcher.
Malaika Alphons always believed that studying chemical and biomedical engineering would lead to a job as an engineer in industry, but her experience last summer working in Robert Tilton’s thermodynamics lab has added research and development to her list of employment options.
It was a really good experience. It was different from working in classroom labs, and there was a lot of critical thinking and problem solving required.Malaika Alphons, Undergraduate student, Chemical Engineering
She reached out to Tilton, a chemical engineering professor, after having been a student in his thermodynamics class. She was brought onto the team and received tuition-free elective credit for the work through the Summer Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship (SURA) program.
“It was a really good experience. It was different from working in classroom labs, and there was a lot of critical thinking and problem solving required,” said Alphons.
Her work in the lab was to experimentally determine the kinetics of particle adhesion to a surface in varied polymer and surfactant concentrations, which are commonly used in consumer goods like shaving cream and styling mouse.
She would run several mixtures through microfluidic channels, examine them under the microscope, and take several pictures of each experiment over a timescale of a few hours. She got to also analyze the images and develop methods to measure adhesion in particles per unit area. Her findings showed what amount of polymer added to a solution with surfactant caused the particle adhesion to be inhibited, and that polymers without surfactant did not cause adhesion.
She said that both Tilton and her mentor, doctoral student Angela Yang, encouraged her to take ownership of which strategies to use in the analysis and documentation.
“They provided guidance but also let me try to figure it out on my own, which helped me realize what I was capable of,” said Alphons.
They provided guidance but also let me try to figure it out on my own, which helped me realize what I was capable of.Malaika Alphons, Undergraduate student, Chemical Engineering
She plans to secure an internship this coming summer working in industry to help further determine what route to take when she graduates in 2024.