NARA funds educational opportunities for students at all levels — grade school through college graduate. For the past three years, NARA has provided summer research internships to college undergraduates through the NARA SURE program. SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience) is a program coordinated by Washington State University that provides research internships to undergraduate students throughout the United States and is funded by multiple organizations including NARA.
For the summer of 2014, NARA funded five undergraduate students to conduct research applicable to the NARA project. Listed below are student profiles and a summary of their contribution.
NARA SURE Students
Preenaa Venugopal is a senior at Penn State University majoring in chemical engineering. She collaborated with NARA researcher Paul Smith to present an analysis that characterized second-generation biofuel refineries in the United States and the conversion technologies employed. Second-generation biofuels are typically produced from agricultural residues like forest residuals. This work builds on NARA’s efforts to better understand the supply chain partnerships and value propositions for competitive renewable chemicals. Preenaa will continue working with Dr. Smith during her senior year to expand their analysis to third-generation biofuels.
Cassandra Sanders is a senior at Washington State University-Tri Cities finishing a double major in environmental sciences and biology. She joined with NARA researcher Xiao Zhang to study how certain chemicals inhibit the activity of cellulase: an enzyme responsible for cleaving simple sugars from cellulose. Cellulase inhibition can dramatically decrease the sugar yields from forest residues and her work will support NARA’s efforts to improve process design for biomass conversion.
Rodney Seals just began his freshman year at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville as a chemical engineering student. He worked with NARA researcher Jinwu Wang to engineer pellets made from the lignin rich residues remaining after simple sugars are removed from forest residuals. Developing valuable products like pellets from the lignin material will contribute significantly to the economic sustainability of a wood residual to bio-jet industry. These pellets can be used to generate heat or electricity, and Rodney tested them for strength and caloric value.
Eric Sorensen is a senior at Humbolt State University majoring in environmental resources engineering. He teamed up with NARA researcher John Petrie to develop a new and improved method to measure and quantify sediment in streams. His work provides a more comprehensive sampling method used to determine how forest slash removal will affect streambeds.
Eileen Wu is a sophomore at the University of California Berkeley majoring in chemical engineering. She worked in Michael Wolcott’s lab investigating methods used to derive sugar yields from milled wood. Milled wood technology could be a good fit for a distributed sugar model in the Pacific Northwest. Her work contributes towards NARA’s efforts to find economical solutions to generating simple sugars from wood slash.
Equal number of males and females applied and the ethnicities represented were 37% Caucasian, 31% Asian/Pacific Islander, 12% African American, 6% Hispanic, 6% Native American. This year’s recruiting efforts through educational websites and direct mailing to universities was successful. Fifty-two applicants applied for the 2014 NARA-SURE program. Thirty-eight applied in 2013. Selected students work for ten weeks and are provided a $5000 stipend plus housing assistance.
Although the applicant number was higher compared to previous years, finding qualified applicants for the available tasks was a challenge. Only five students were selected. Increased efforts will be given to find multiple projects and mentors to accommodate the student interest in the NARA SURE program.
View additional information about the NARA SURE program here.