A lighter moment for the 2013 NARA Biofuels SURE students.  Front row, left to right: Calvin Silas, Kane Norton, Chanel Casayuran, Daniel Leong Back row, left to right: Stephen Cline, Andrea Laguna, Karissa Garcia, Jing Li. Not pictured: Yuanlong Li
A lighter moment for the 2013 NARA Biofuels SURE students.
Front row, left to right: Calvin Silas, Kane Norton, Chanel Casayuran, Daniel Leong
Back row, left to right: Stephen Cline, Andrea Laguna, Karissa Garcia, Jing Li. Not pictured: Yuanlong Li

Here is a good deal for college undergraduate students interested in biofuels research. Spend ten weeks in summer doing meaningful research, visit a new area, make great contacts and get paid a generous stipend.

Too good to be true?

Well not for the nine undergraduate students involved in the NARA Biofuels-SURE program. This is the second year that NARA sponsored students to participate in the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience in Biofuels (BF-SURE). Each student was mentored by a NARA researcher and was based at one of four NARA affiliated organizations:  Washington State University, The Pennsylvania State University, the USDA Forest Products Laboratory and Weyerhaeuser. The students were provided housing, travel expenses and a $5000 stipend to complete research projects relating to biofuels. At the end of 10 weeks, each student prepared a poster describing their results and displayed their work at the SURE Poster Symposium at Washington State University.

Quality Students

Students were selected based on their applications and skills relative to the proposed projects. The number and quality of applicants this year was great. Take the case of Calvin Silas, who was selected as an Academic All American for the state of New Mexico and attends New Mexico State on a full scholarship to major in Mechanical Engineering. He worked with Karl England at Washington State University to find ways to generate co-products from biofuel production. According to Dr. Englund,  “Calvin was a great worker and his results show quite a bit of promise”. Of the 38 applicants from 21 universities and colleges, he was one of nine selected. Applicant demographics were 61% women and 39 % men; of which, 11% were Hispanic, 3% Native-American, 8% African-American, 34% Asian/Pacific and 39 % Caucasian.

Quality Projects

Most of the NARA Biofuel-SURE student research projects contributed to the goal of converting the lignin-rich residuals into useful co-products, but projects also addressed the chemical variation among Douglas-fir trees and aviation fuel infrastructure for the Seattle and Portland airports.

Yuanlong Li is an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota. Paul Smith, Li’s mentor, says his summer work “provided some interesting background to the biofuels logistics work, particularly in the SEA-TAC region. Our NARA team is currently building on the background information generated by Yaunlong Li”.

NARA researcher Ian Dallmeyer works for Weyerhaeuser and seeks ways to convert lignin-rich residuals to commercial products. He mentored Chanel Casayuran, an undergraduate student majoring in chemical engineering at Cornell University. He describes her work as follows: “She was responsible for following established protocols for producing and characterizing samples, keeping an organized record of her research, and reporting on her findings. Having her here was very helpful to me as it allowed me to spend time focusing on other aspects of the project and gave me a chance to test and develop my own ability to explain and teach.” Read about Chanel’s experience here.

To view all nine of the NARA Biofuel-SURE posters presented at the WSU SURE Poster Symposium, click here.

Quality Experience

The NARA Biofuel-SURE experience is a summer immersion research experience for undergraduates aimed at giving them hands on skills in biofuels and bioproducts research.  “They are building academic networks, learning techniques, gaining confidence,” says Shelley Pressley, WSU Director of Undergraduate Research and SURE director,” and that’s what this is about. When you are on a first‑name basis with professors at other institutions and have labs that know of your contributions, that’s a huge deal.”

NARA’s ultimate goal is to provide these talented undergraduates with an experience that will translate into careers with the emerging biofuel industry. Post surveys are provided to the students to help gage their experience and track their post-undergraduate choices. Results from these surveys should be made available soon.

Until we see the survey results, here is post feedback from Kane Norton, a student from University of South Wales in the United Kingdom who preformed research in Michaels Wolcott’s laboratory.  “I had a great time working on the NARA program,” said Kane. “ It was good to be able to develop and plan an experimental method rather than follow a procedure. Although the actual testing took a while to get going, I feel that I got a good set of worthwhile results. It was good to see how an individual or a small group fits into a large and important project. My experience will be an important addition to my CV. I also loved the experience of living and working in America- everyone I worked with and lived with for the summer were absolutely great. I would highly recommend this project to anyone.”

The NARA Biofuels-SURE program for 2014 will start May 29th and extend through Aug. 1st. Applications will be accepted beginning October 15, 2013 and can be processed online. Applications will not be accepted after february 28, 2014. For more information regarding the program, visit www.nararenewables.org/ed or contact Shelley Pressley at spressley@wsu.edu.