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ChE Students Win Accolades at AIChE Meeting and Other Conferences

Nicholas Sbalbi

Nicholas Sbalbi

Hansen Tjo

Hansen Tjo

Several undergraduates in the Chemical Engineering (ChE) Department won important awards in the recent student conference of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). Hansen Tjo and Nicholas Sbalbi both participated in the Student Poster Competition, and Sbalbi won the "Materials Science and Engineering" group. Sbalbi also won a smaller award, given out by the national AIChE organization, called the Donald F. Othmer Sophomore Academic Excellence Award. In addition, current ChE sophomore Thomas Goodwin won the Freshman Recognition Award for his accomplishments last year.

Sbalbi’s winning poster on work performed in Polymer Science and Engineering (PSE) Professor Laura Bradley’s research group was titled, “Nematic Colloids at Liquid Crystal-Air Interfaces via Photopolymerization” and demonstrated a pioneering, one-step fabrication process for developing two-dimensional, colloid assemblies that can be applied in systems ranging from photonics to microlithography. This work was a collaboration with PSE graduate student Xiaoshuang Wei and published in Soft Matter.

As Sbalbi explained in his poster demonstration, research at the intersection of interfacial and colloidal science has led to the development of two-dimensional colloid assemblies. Traditionally, colloids must first be prepared in a time-consuming, two-step procedure involving an independent synthesis step before a second step assembles the components by using common techniques such as sedimentation or spin coating to complete the process.

“However,” as Sbalbi explained in his poster presentation, “by leveraging polymerization-induced phase separation and elastic interactions found in liquid crystal (LC) phases, we demonstrate the preparation of colloidal crystals at nematic LC-air interfaces by simultaneous photopolymerization and assembly.” The result is a much more efficient one-step process.

After describing the technical aspects of the new process in his poster session, Sbalbi concluded that “A comprehensive structural characterization of the colloid assemblies confirmed that field standards for positional and orientational order were achieved by this one-step fabrication process.”

Related to the Donald F. Othmer Sophomore Academic Excellence Award, Sbalbi said that it is “given out to a sophomore who takes part in the AIChE chapter and has the highest GPA in class.” Sbalbi served as the webmaster for the campus AIChE chapter during his sophomore year and went on to serve as president this year.

In an accomplishment unrelated to the AIChE conference, Sbalbi was one of three UMass students who collaborated to earn a first-place prize at the recent Materials Research Society (MRS) Fall Conference Science as Art competition. The artwork was the result of a collaboration with Heather Hamilton, a PSE graduate student who captured the original electron micrograph, and Kyle Schoenberg, also a ChE junior, who did the false coloring of the image. Sbalbi’s ongoing research aims to uncover the mechanism of formation for this new species of colloid.

In explaining his Freshman Recognition Award, Goodwin said that “I was nominated by [ChE] Professor Peter Beltramo for my performance in his ChE 120 class and my efforts in AIChE last school year.” The AIChE website describes which attributes award recipients must have.

Beltramo, who is the faculty advisor to the UMass AIChE Chapter, explained that “Both Tom and Nick have been heavily involved as first-year representative and president of our AIChE chapter, respectively. In addition to their academic achievements, they, along with the rest of the AIChE executive board, have done an excellent job over the past semester fostering a sense of ‘virtual’ community in chemical engineering through trivia nights, panels, and mentoring sessions.”

In addition to his participation in the AIChE Student Poster Competition, Tjo was recently awarded "Best Presentation” in the Biomolecular Engineering Session at the Gulf Coast Undergraduate Research Symposium (GCURS), hosted by Rice University. Tjo was also a recent awardee at the 2020 Future Leaders in Chemical Engineering Symposium.

Tjo is advised by ChE Associate Professor Sarah Perry. (January 2021)

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