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Three Doctoral Students Give Oral Presentations at Gordon Research Conferences

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Natalie Thayer
Matt Oleksiak, Katy Olafson, and Manjesh Kumar
Matt Oleksiak, Katy Olafson, and Manjesh Kumar

This summer, Cullen College of Engineering doctoral students Manjesh Kumar, Matt Oleksiak and Katy Olafson were invited to give oral presentations at two of the prestigious Gordon Research Conferences (GRC).

The conferences, founded in the late 1920s by Dr. Neil E. Gordon, aim to promote discussions and the exchange of ideas by focusing on new, innovative research in the fields of biological, chemical and physical sciences.

Under the guidance of faculty advisor and Ernest J. and Barbara M. Henley assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering Jeffrey Rimer, Kumar, Oleksiak and Olafson presented their respective exploratory research on zeolites, which are crystals made up of aluminum, silicon and oxygen often used in the energy industry, and malaria pathophysiology.

Manjesh Kumar was invited to give an oral talk titled “Mechanism of SSZ-13 Crystallization and Methods to Tailor Material Properties” at the GRC on Nanoporuos Materials & Their Applications in Holderness, New Hampshire. He was selected based on the strength of his poster and the overall quality of his research.

Kumar is a 5th year Ph.D. student in chemical engineering at the University of Houston. He was drawn to the Cullen College’s doctoral program because he wanted to further investigate chemical engineering fundamentals. His project provides an interface between fundamental research of catalyst design and potential applications for industrial use.

Kumar said that working with Rimer has helped him both to identify and to focus on research projects. “Jeff is very open to ideas. Constant interactions help to generate new ideas for research and at the same time build on qualities like writing and presentation, and he helps you find the balance between work and life” he said.

Matt Oleksiak was also invited to give an oral presentation at the GRC on Nanoporuos Materials & Their Assembly in Holderness, New Hampshire. Much like Kumar, Oleksiak was selected based on the strength and quality of his poster presentation. Oleksiak presented research on zeolite synthesis and its application in the energy industry. His research explored cost-conscious methods to create zeolites, map particular structures and tune the properties of the crystals, themselves.

Originally from New York, Oleksiak studied chemical engineering at the University of Delaware before moving to Texas to pursue his doctoral degree. He said Rimer has been an excellent mentor along the way because, “he is very open to discussion about ideas. We are able to have honest back-and-forth conversations because he values my insight.”

Katy Olafson was invited to speak about her research on malaria pathophysiology from the aspect of hematin crystallization at the conference on Crystal Growth & Assembly in Biddeford, Maine. She studied how anti-malarial drugs affect crystallization with the hopes of discovering new drugs to treat the disease. Rather than being invited to speak based on her poster presentation, Olafson submitted her abstract before the conference and was pre-selected through a new pre-screening process implemented only at select GRCs.

Olafson studied chemical engineering in her native state of Kentucky before moving to Houston to pursue her doctoral degree at UH – a decision that she said turned out to be ideal for her. “I really like combining [engineering] with science because even if things repeatedly fail or don’t initially work, you have the skill set to succeed eventually if you are tenacious—and that’s the most rewarding feeling ever,” she said.

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