Boughter, Gastfriend, Piekarz Win 2014 Undergraduate Research Awards

The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) extends its congratulations to Christopher Boughter, Benjamin Gastfriend and Jacob Piekarz, who received the department’s 2014 Undergraduate Research Awards. The annual honor, presented each spring to students nominated for work performed in the previous academic year, was created to highlight the accomplishments of ChBE's strong and well-established community of undergraduate research assistants.

“We want to congratulate both the winners and their advisors on their excellent work,” says Associate Professor Panos Dimitrakopoulos, who heads the award selection committee. “We hope the example they set will motivate even more nominations in the coming years.”

Gastfriend, a junior and 2015 Goldwater Scholar, was recognized for his work in Associate Professor Ganesh Sriram’s Metabolic Engineering Laboratory, where he collaborated with ChBE graduate student Andrew Quinn and Professor Steven Hutcheson (Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics). Gastfriend has been studying the metabolism of the saprophytic marine bacterium Saccharophagus degradans in order to develop nontrivial strategies to transform the organism into a biofactory. S. degradans, discovered in the Chesapeake Bay in 1985, is a versatile and powerful degrader of complex carbohydrates, allowing it to break down both whole plant biomass and several polysaccharides, including agarose, chitin, starch, cellulose, hemicelluloses, and xylans.

Piekarz, a senior, was recognized for his work in Professor and Chair Sheryl Ehrman’s P2OWDER Group. His project involved developing a colloidal synthesis route for making copper nanoparticles with high electrical conductivity. Copper nanoparticles oxidize easily, both during preparation and storage, which makes synthesizing pure copper nanoparticles without an additional oxide layer forming challenging. The addition of stabilizing agents has been shown to reduce the oxide layer formation. Piekarz developed an uncomplicated synthesis route for creating pure copper nanoparticles in an aqueous solution.

Boughter, a senior majoring in physics, was recognized for his work in Associate Professor Jeffery Klauda’s Laboratory of Molecular & Thermodynamic Modeling. His research involved biophysical characterization of lipid bilayers with cholesterol using molecular dynamics simulations. In particular, he studied the effect of cholesterol on different lipid bilayers to better understand the condensing effect both saturated and unsaturated lipids had on them. His research concluded that increases in cholesterol concentration result in an increased order in liquid disordered bilayers, while simultaneously promoting disorder in bilayers that normally form gels in pure phospholipid bilayers.

Published May 8, 2015