MEs take top prizes during campus-wide research poster competition

Mechanical engineering students had an impressive showing during the Research Days 2021 competition, hosted last month by Iowa State University’s Office of the Vice President for Research.

Saurabh Aykar

Saurabh Aykar, Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering (ME), took first place in the People’s Choice category in the iPoster competition — which was hosted through the iPoster platform — while Jessica Brown, Ph.D. student in ME, won the Best Commercialization Potential category.

Judges and sponsors for the Best Commercialization Potential award included Alison Doyle, Chief Relationship Officer at the Iowa State University Research Park, and Peter Hong, director of the ISU Startup Factory. The People’s Choice award category allowed event attendees to vote for their three favorite iPosters. Both awards were new this year. Aykar will receive a $300 gift card as a prize, while Brown will receive a $100 gift card.

Aykar’s research looked at manufacturing bio-compatible hollow polymer-based microvessels using microfluidics to mimic the human microvasculature network in-vitro that can subsequently be used for drug discovery/testing applications.

“I am grateful for the recognition I have received for my research work and I would like to specially mention my professor, Dr. Nicole Hashemi, for constantly motivating me to achieve success,” said Aykar, who is advised by Hashemi, associate professor of ME.

Jessica Brown

Brown’s project focused on thermal oxo-degradation of plastics in the environment. She and her research team found that by adding oxygen to the system, it accelerates the chemical reactions and adds functionality to the fragmented molecules.

“Considering the high quality of research performed across Iowa State’s campus, I was honored to receive this award. Commercialization of plastic upcycling has been hampered due to a gap between the costly energy input and the value of products. With support from the Bioeconomy Institute and DARPA, my research aims to bridge this gap and improve the viability of plastic thermochemical conversion,” said Brown, who is advised by Robert C. Brown (no relation), distinguished professor in ME as well as the Anson Marston Distinguished Professor in Engineering and Gary and Donna Hoover Chair in Mechanical Engineering.

The format for this year’s Research Days event was adapted for COVID-19 protocols. The event was entirely virtual and there were 29 total research posters that were part of this year’s gallery. While the traditional in-person format has its benefits, this revised format created opportunities that might not have otherwise been available to both the presenters and the attendees, according to Peter Dorhout, Vice President for Research at Iowa State University.

“Viewing times were greatly extended, offering more flexibility, and the content presented as part of the iPoster multimedia platform was richer,” Dorhout said in a speech during the competition’s award ceremony. “We hope the iPoster gallery has provided you with opportunities to interact with many researchers, and that you’ll continue the conversations started this week in the weeks and months to come.”