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From Curiosity to Competence: A Journey of Young Undergraduate Student in Chemical Engineering Research

By May 31, 2024June 3rd, 2024No Comments
Simeon Newman accepting award at ERN 2024

Embarking my academic career as a junior undergraduate chemical engineering major at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, I have gained various experiences that have cultivated both my professional career goals and my passion for science and engineering. My early exposure to several conferences and symposiums, spanning fields from aerospace and mechanics to chemistry and engineering, galvanized my fascination with the intersection of theory and application, a cornerstone of scientific discovery. This tenacity brought me a passion for chemical engineering, an avenue where I could explore the theoretical components of science while also applying scientific principles in a multitude of subjects.

In January of 2022 I joined the Arnett Polymer Research Lab as an undergraduate chemical engineering major. Because I was at the beginning of my academic career, many of the lab protocols, applications, and theories were considerably esoteric to me. As an engineering major, my lab skills were also less proficient than the corresponding chemistry majors. The following summer, I had the opportunity to elevate my research by conducting independent research as the graduate student I worked with left the lab. Understanding the initiative, I needed to attain, I applied the knowledge acquired from my chemical engineering classes such as Thermodynamics, Transport Phenomena, and Computations. This has strengthened the quality of my research and has resulted in the culmination of “Phenolphthalin Poly (arylene ether sulphone) Polymers for Nitrate Remediation”. Material characterization, surface chemistry, organic synthesis, computational modeling, and statistical analysis were subjects that I integrated into my research to adsorb nitrates in groundwater for water purification and sustainability.

After a year of data collection and experimentation, I had the opportunity to be sponsored to present my research on nitrate remediation at the National Organization for Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCChE). Given that this was my first conference, I ensured I possessed a masterful understanding of every possible facet of my research. This conference was held in New Orleans in the fall of 2023. During the conference I attended numerous presentations and made significant connections with industry professionals. This was critical for my development as a professional, given that networking is an extremely important facet of success and career longevity. During the undergraduate poster presentation session, I felt comfortable since I had rigorously prepared for each constituent of my research to be scrutinized. The following day after my presentation, I received an email saying that I won for my division in physical and polymer sciences. That same night, I received my certificate for winning the award and the cash prize.

NOBBCChE revealed that I possessed the capacity to demonstrate my affinity for science and presentation on a competitive level. This changed the way I viewed my research. From that point, I had attended another conference in November called Space-Vision hosted by the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) which provided monumental connections to individuals in the space industry and other like-minded people interested in space. These connections cultivated in numerous internships offers for the following summer, from which I decided to pursue DOW Chemical as a chemical engineering intern. The following February, I prepared to embark on a bigger conference called the Emerging Researchers National STEM Conference (ERN) by presenting at a local Poly-PMSE symposium at FAMU-FSU. Presenting the same research during the poster session as I did during NOBCChE, I won a cash prize, beating other graduate students and their caliber of research.

After fine-tuning my poster and improving my speech abilities, the Arnett Polymer Research Lab flew to Washington D.C. after being sponsored to present our research. Similar to NOBBChE, I attended several presentations building very high-quality connections with industry professionals, exhibitors, and attendees which broadened my network substantially. Because of numerous experiences presenting my research, I won first place for the undergraduate poster presentation in chemical/process/biomolecular engineering. Emerging Researchers National Conference in STEM, ERN was hugely impactful, providing even more confirmation of the quality of my research. ERN has also humbled me to the illustrious research done by very intelligent individuals for a vast range of subjects.

After presenting at ERN, I immediately flew to New Orleans to present my research on the “Progress in the Development of Modular Glycopolymers Tailored to Inhibit Norovirus Infections” during the American Chemical Society Spring 2024 conference. I won the Best Poster award in the Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering (PMSE) Division for undergraduates and was recognized during the subsequent evening’s plenary ceremony. This research was conducted last summer during a program called GlycoTREE at Virginia Tech in conjunction with GlycoMIP. There, I worked closely with graduate student Jon Mase, under the guidance of Dr. Michael Schultz, to investigate varying synthetic approaches to thiolation of carbohydrates pertinent to Norovirus attachment.

Participating in independent research as an undergraduate chemical engineering major has been an extremely enriching experience for my professional and personal career. Science and engineering are at the forefront of discovery and curiosity. I believe that attending conferences has propelled my impetus for scientific research and development. Furthermore, independent research has increased my appreciation for diversity in the STEM fields, so that I may cultivate a more cohesive intersection between underrepresented groups and science.

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