Anne Pillai | August 16, 2018
Hunter Allen and Lee Ngochi, rising seniors at South Bend Riley High School, had an unusual summer. Instead of finding a typical summer job, they took a leap of learning and worked in research laboratories on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.
Allen and Ngochi were Notre Dame’s first Young Scholar Summer Research participants, sponsored by the Center for Innovative and Strategic Transformation of Alkane Resources (CISTAR). Funded by the National Science Foundation, Notre Dame is one of five affiliated universities in CISTAR, along with Purdue University as the lead institution, Northwestern University, University of Texas at Austin, and the University of New Mexico. In addition to the goal of developing the enabling technologies to convert shale gas into transportation fuels and other useful chemicals, the Center aims to develop a well-trained workforce through educational programs such as this one.
Ngochi’s project focused on developing approaches to convert ethane, a major component of shale gas, into ethylene, a more valuable chemical product. Current technologies are plagued by the production of undesired by-products that foul the system. He helped his group in their work on preparing and evaluating a new, nickel phosphide catalyst. Allen’s project revolved around developing zeolite materials that will combine ethylene molecules into longer, more useful chemicals and fuels. Both students learned how to prepare materials in the lab, analyze them using modern laboratory instrumentation, and evaluate them using flow reactors.
Modern chemical research integrates experiments with computational modeling. To round out their experience, both researchers learned to use the python programming language and modern molecular modeling software to predict the outcomes of experiments and to guide the experimental research. They got to see first-hand how scientists build models to describe real systems.
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