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Northeastern Chemical Engineers at the AIChE National Conference

December 7, 2016

About Me

Justin Ramberger (bottom right in photo) is a fourth year student pursing a BS in Chemical Engineering and an MS in Engineering Management. He has worked in the Northeastern Laboratory for Advanced Separations and Catalysis under Dr. Sunho Choi since his freshman year, helping to develop and characterize materials for carbon dioxide capture and conversion. He has presented research at both RISE and national conferences, and is an author on a published academic paper and on several more that are currently under preparation. On campus, he is involved in the Northeastern chapters of ΩΧΕ, ΤΒΠ, and AIChE, where his is one of the ChemE Car Captains. He completed his first co-op at W.L. Gore and Associates where he worked on membrane surface modification and characterization. His second co-op was a Lockheed Martin Advanced Energy Storage where he aided in analysis and scale up for grid-scale flow batteries.

Northeastern Chemical Engineers at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers National Conference

This year, Northeastern sent a record number of undergraduates to the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) National Conference, where they presented research, participated in competitions, attended technical sessions, and learned about the discipline of chemical engineering. The location of the conference changes from year to year, and this year it returned to San Francisco, California, which offered the students an opportunity to explore the city and the surrounding area while experiencing its culture.

At the keynote address, given by Jim Fitterling, the president and COO of the DOW Chemical Company, Northeastern started off on a high note by winning third place in the student video competition. The winners were chosen by representatives from various companies. The topic of the videos was “How Biopharmaceuticals Are Made”, and the Northeastern team used the flu vaccine, a biopharmaceutical that most people are familiar with, and presented its production as a case study. Next year, the topic is “How to Decaffeinate Coffee”, and a plan to make a video is already underway.

One of the main events of the conference is the ChemE Car competition. The goal of ChemE Car is to build a small model car that is powered by a chemical reaction and can be stopped at a given distance, where the timing is also determined by a chemical reaction. The Northeastern ChemE Car team was fourth place in this year’s Northeast Regional Competition, so they did not attend, but both captains attended the conference. They attended the ChemE Car poster competition and the competition itself to see what other schools are doing and to see how each of the reactions works so that this knowledge can help Northeastern succeed next year.

For most of the undergraduates attending the conference, the most important event is the Undergraduate Poster Competition, where they present research that they have completed on their campuses to a wide audience of other students, academics, and professionals. This year, Northeastern students had posters in various different categories, with topics ranging from microbial fuel cells to educational comics. Several of the presenters won awards for their presentations. Even if a student is not presenting research, this poster session is a great opportunity to explore the types of research that are going on at other universities. Various technical sessions that take place during the conference also offer an opportunity to see what sort of research students are doing at the graduate level.

Another key aspect of the conference is networking. Students have many opportunities to interact with other undergraduates, graduate students, professors, and professionals to gain insight into the experiences of others and to grow their professional networks. The Recruitment Fair is probably best chance that students have to speak with a lot of graduate schools to learn about the programs that they have to offer. Though some major companies have tables at the Fair, most of the tables are reserved for graduate schools who are looking to bring on new graduate students in the upcoming year. Many also have information about summer research positions, so even if a student is not going applying to graduate school that year, speaking with the schools can still be informative. The other main networking events are the receptions, which are hosted by various universities each night. The receptions are held so that alumni can come visit former professors and meet the current students, but they also provide students with the opportunity to find professors at universities that they are interested in and speak to them in a less formal setting. This year, the Northeastern contingent went to the Penn State reception to visit with a recent Northeastern alumnus who graduated in the spring and is now pursuing a PhD there.

Outside of the professional and academic events there is enough free time to explore the host city and to learn more about the area. Locations visited by Northeastern students this year include the Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, Lombard Street, Chinatown, Japantown, the Mission District, Golden Gate Park, Ocean Beach, Land’s End, the Marin Headlands, and Muir Woods. A few students even visited local graduate schools and medical schools for tours. Each of these places had something different to offer, and they helped everyone really experience San Francisco and the west coast in general. From free food at receptions and poster sessions to sourdough and costal redwoods, the Northeastern team had an amazing opportunity to learn about both chemical engineering and San Francisco.