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University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering

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Harvard-Amgen Summer Program for Biotechnology Admits UH Engineering Undergrad

By: 

Natalie Thayer

This summer, a chemical and biomolecular engineering undergraduate student from the University of Houston Cullen College will attend the 2016 Harvard-Amgen Scholars Program in Cambridge, Mass.

The Harvard-Amgen Scholars Program is an immersive 10-week residential program for students pursuing research in biotechnology. Students admitted to the highly selective program are paired with world-renowned faculty mentors and postdoctoral scholars or graduate students who serve as director supervisors in the laboratory. Students participating in the program also have the opportunity to attend the 2016 National Amgen Symposium at the University of California Los Angeles.

Rawan Almallahi, a junior at the UH Cullen College of Engineering, was invited to attend the Harvard-based program from a pool of top-notch students from across the nation. She was selected due to demonstrated academic success, an interest in biotechnology research and a commitment to the pursuit of a scientific career, according to the program’s website.

Under the guidance of her faculty advisor Megan Robertson, Almallahi researches the biodegradation of epoxy resins, a class of reactive prepolymers and polymers. Epoxy resins have a wide range of applications, including electronics, coatings, automobiles, and renewable and non-renewable energy sources. In particular, epoxy resins play an integral role in wind turbines used to generate energy.

But despite the widespread use of epoxy resins in the renewable energy sector, they often contain harmful chemicals and are not biodegradable. Almallahi is investigating ways to incorporate vegetable oil into these polymers to reduce their harmful effects on both human health and the environment. She began this research in Robertson’s lab last fall and received a Provost Undergraduate Research Scholarship (PURS) to continue the research this spring.

Almallahi is also active on the University of Houston campus outside the laboratory. She holds on officer position with the Cullen College’s Engineering Honor Society, Tau Beta Pi, and is actively involved with the organization’s STEM educational outreach efforts.

This summer, Almallahi will be working on a project exploring graphene oxides for water treatment through the Harvard-Amgen Scholars Program. She said she’s looking forward to being part of a new research community and can’t wait to learn about different aspects of the biotechnology field.

“I’m really interested in meeting new people, new faculty members, and seeing what projects others [in this research area] are working on,” she said.

Learn more about the Harvard-Amgen Scholars Program online.

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