Chemical Engineering Stars Win National Research Awards

SOCORRO, N.M. December 7, 2009 – Two seniors in chemical engineering won awards for their research presentations at the American Institute of Chemical Engineering conference in Nashville in November.

Kaoutar Abbou Oucherif (left) and Caitlin Allen won awards for their research presentations at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers conference in Nashville in November.

Kaoutar “Coco” Abbou Oucherif won first place in computing and process control. Caitlin Allen won a second place award in environmental engineering.

Their academic advisor at New Mexico Tech, Dr. Michaelann Tartis, said she was not surprised that Abbou Oucherif and Allen won awards.

“They both spent a lot of time and effort on their summer internships,” she said. “And they both put a lot of effort into creating their posters.”

Tartis said both students are among the best at Tech and they were deserving of their prestigious opportunities they had last summer.

Abbou Oucherif presented research she completed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich during the summer of 2009. Her work involved using several image processing and process monitoring technologies to provide systematic, sensitive, robust and low-complexity solutions for nucleation detection using bulk video imaging, a novel technique designed to detect when nucleation begins in solution.

She worked with internship advisor, Dr. Levente Simon of ETH in Switzerland, and professor Zoltan K. Nagy from Loughborough University in England. Abbou Oucherif used external video cameras and endoscopes to produce videos of the crystallization process of active pharmaceutical ingredients. Abbou Oucherif then used a simulation software —Matlab — to apply multivariate image analysis, histogram matching, and process control charts to detect nucleation.

“This process works and it is robust. Some pharmaceutical companies in the U.K. and Germany already showed interest in applying our technology” she said.

Her poster received accolades for the novel concept, the video processing and the analysis. She has co-authored a paper on this work, which will be published soon.

A native of Morocco, Abbou Oucherif was a Macey Scholar in 2008-2009. She will graduate this month and begin a doctoral program at Purdue University in January.

Allen, also a Macey Scholar in 2009-2010, presented research she conducted during summer internships through Sandia National Laboratories at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project, or WIPP, a low-level radioactive waste facility, near Carlsbad, her hometown.
Her research investigated the magnesium oxide engineered barrier, designed to limit actinide solubility by sequestering carbon dioxide produced from degradation of the waste. Allen’s task was to determine the kinetics and rate law of CO2 ¬¬sequestration by MgO in brine, similar to conditions expected at WIPP.

Allen expects to graduate in May 2010 and hopes to enroll in graduate school to pursue a doctorate in chemical engineering.
Both students said the conference represents an excellent opportunity for students to interact with professionals and graduate schools. The weeklong event included thousands of professionals and more than 220 student presenters.

While presenting research at the 2008 conference, Abbou Oucherif was offered the internship in Switzerland.

“If I hadn’t gone to the AIChE conference, I wouldn’t have been able to go to Zurich,” she said. “More students should go to these conferences.”

Students who attend the AIChE conference receive special perks, including application fee waivers to many graduate schools.

“These conferences have given me some of my favorite, most memorable experiences,” Allen said. “I’ve met and networked with a lot of graduate schools and colleagues in the field, which has, and will continue, to help me in my future career.”

-- NMT --

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech