What are our undergraduates working on this summer?

June 17, 2021

Dr. Jessica Larsen’s Research Lab –

Grace Anderson, junior undergraduate researcher

Grace Anderson, a junior undergraduate researcher for Dr. Jessica Larsen, is working on an SC BioCRAFT funded project this summer. The overarching goal of Grace’s project is to improve the current standard of care for brain tumors.

Cancerous cells left adjacent to the removed tumor account for 96% of recurrent tumors, providing motivation for immediate local drug delivery to that area while helping the tissue to heal. Preventing tumor resurgence and healing the brain tissue post-surgery can be performed simultaneously using thermally responsive hydrogels.

Grace is working to create polymers that are liquid at room temperature and gel up at body temperature, encapsulating and delivering a drug slowly over time.

Dr. Eric Davis’s Research Lab –

This summer, undergraduate researchers Jaden Stutts and Alana LeSuer are working in Prof. Davis’s lab on highly interdisciplinary projects encompassing polymer science, energy storage and delivery, and membrane-based aqueous separations.

Jaden Stutts, undergraduate researcher

Jaden, a rising Junior who joined the lab in Spring 2020, is currently working towards completing her Departmental Honors Thesis on a project centered around the fabrication and characterization of poly(hydroxyethylmethacrylate) (pHEMA) and lignin soft composites (i.e., composite hydrogels), which have potential applications in biotechnologies such as wound dressing and drug delivery.

While prevalent in biomedical research, hydrogels comprised primarily of pHEMA are not mechanically robust and suffer from degradation issues, limiting their implementation in many applications. With the introduction of lignin, an abundant biopolymer that is a byproduct of the pulping and paper industry, we are able to tune both the mechanical and transport properties of the soft composites, creating materials with tailored functionality. Along with altering various synthesis parameters, Jaden will also investigate how the properties of the composite hydrogels change depending the source of the lignin – e.g., hardwood or softwood.

Alana Lesuer, undergraduate researcher, and Xueting Wang, Ph.D. student

Alana, a rising Senior in the program, is working with one of the graduate students in Prof. Davis’s lab on a project involving ionomer (i.e., polymers containing a fixed charge along the backbone) nanocomposites for use in vanadium redox flow batteries. Redox flow batteries, which can be thought of as large car batteries, have emerged as a promising electrical grid-scale energy storage technology due to their scalability.

However, the current state-of-the-art ionomer used to separate the liquid electrolytes in the battery suffers from issues related to electrolyte crossover, reducing the efficiency and lifetime of the battery. To address this issue, Alana will work to fabricate and characterize ionomers containing functionalized nanoparticles that have shown promise at addressing issues related to electrolyte crossover without compromising the attractive properties of these ionomer membranes.

Specifically, Alana will be synthesizing sulfonated poly(ether ether ketone) membranes containing silica nanoparticles with a wide range of surface functionalities. By varying the concentration and surface functionalization of the nanoparticles, the ion transport properties of the membranes can be significantly altered, ultimately leading to membranes with better performance properties than the current benchmark ionomers.

Both Jaden’s and Alana’s work are funded by a summer research grant through the Clemson University Creative Inquiry Program, as well as through an external grant from the Materials Assembly and Design Excellence in South Carolina (MADE in SC) Program titled, “Closing the Gap of Underrepresented Minorities and Women in Polymer-Related Research”.