Soft Matter REU - Last Year Recap

Summer 2017 Soft Matter REU at Cleveland State University

The first year of Cleveland State University’s REU, “Synthesis, Assembly and Characterization of Soft Matter,” ran from May 29, 2017 through August 3, 2017, and hosted eight students from around the country, featuring three physics majors and five biomedical engineering majors. The program was a success in helping students to develop strong research and presentation skills through the development of individual projects, program specific seminars, and visits to nationally recognized research centers. To see last year's final program schedule, please click here [LINK].

Research Projects:

Major research topics for 2017 included: microgel and hydrogel nanoparticles, anisotropic soft matter thin films, and soft matter fluid flow. Below is the list of 2017 projects and faculty responsible for those. For more details, please see the 2017 Project Descriptions [LINK]

Structural control and macroscopic assembly of boron nitride nanotubes
Dr. Geyou Ao, Chemical & Biomedical Engineering
Microfluidic channels and mixers 
Dr. Chandra Kothapalli
Drug Delivery Nanoparticles
Dr. Nolan B. Holland, Chemical & Biomedical Engineering
Polypeptide Bio-inks
Dr. Nolan B. Holland, Chemical & Biomedical Engineering
Enhancing electron imaging capabilities of soft matter systems
Dr. Petru S. Fodor and Dr. Kiril A. Streletzky, Physics
Modeling Fluid Flow in Low Reynolds Number Systems
Dr. Miron Kaufman and Dr. Petru Fodor, Physics
Studying Volume Phase Transition of Polymeric Microgels
Dr. Kiril A. Streletzky, Physics
Total Internal Reflection Microscopy (TIRM) of Anisotropic Particles
Dr. Chris Wirth, Chemical and Biomedical Engineering

Science Seminars:

Seminars were given by scientists currently working within the Soft Matter field in both experiment and computation, and were followed by a student lunch with the guest speaker, where conversation typically focused around students’ research projects, the graduate school experience, and questions extending upon information from the talk. The seminar topics were as follows:

  1.  “Finding Solutions within Solutions,” by Dr. William Meyer, NASA Glenn
  2.  “Computational Prediction and Evolutionary Design of Polymer Glass-Formation Behavior,” by Dr. David S. Simmons, The University of Akron
  3.  “Improved Blending and Compounding in Twin-Screw Extrusion Via New Extension-Dominated Mixing Elements,” by Dr. João Maia, Case Western Reserve University
  4.  “The Physics Behind Viruses,” by Dr. Krista Freeman, Carnegie Mellon University
  5.  “Soft Computing: Information Processing in Living Cells,” Dr. Michael Hinczewski, Case Western Reserve University

Visits to Other Research Centers:

Students also had the opportunity to tour off-campus laboratories. At Kent State University’s Liquid Crystal Institute (LCI), our REU students toured the various labs within LCI, spoke to faculty about projects, graduate school applications, and the physics of liquid crystals. Some students also took the time after the tour to explore the Kent campus and get dinner as a group in the nearby college town. At NASA Glenn Research Center, students got a behind the scenes tour led by Dr. William Meyer. Here, students had the opportunity to visit the Microgravity Facilities and the Telescience Support Center, which controls current experiments aboard the ISS. Students were also treated to an extended talk on colloidal experimentation by Dr. Meyer.

Some Time for Fun:

Due to CSU’s central location, in their free time REU students had the freedom to explore the Downtown Cleveland and the surrounding neighborhoods. Group outings included a behind the scenes tour of the historic Severance Hall in University Circle, a Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Finals watch party at the Q, and a concert picnic hosted by the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center. In smaller groups, students also took the time to attended a couple of Cleveland Indians baseball games and to visit many of the museums that Cleveland boasts, such as the Great Lakes Science Center, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, and of course, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. 

Presenting Their Findings:

The summer ended with the 14th Annual Northeast Ohio Undergraduate Research Symposium, hosted at Case Western Reserve University on Aug 3, 2017. There, the Soft Matter REU students represented Cleveland State University. Six REU students, as well as three other CSU students, prepared and presented posters summarizing their summer projects, while two REU students delivered a 20-minute oral presentation to the entirety of the symposium attendees. This event allowed for students to compile all their work over the course of the program and provided an excellent networking opportunity with students and faculty from several colleges from across Ohio. 

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The final projects presented at the symposium are as follows:

  1. Oral Presentation: “Fluid Flow Modeling in Single Screw Extruder Systems.” Avi Desai (Rutgers University), Dr. Petru S. Fodor, Dr. Miron Kaufman
  2. Oral Presentation: “Optimizing the Direct Visualization of HPC Microgels via Scanning Electron Microscopy.” Tony D. Dobrila (Cleveland State University), Dr. Petru S. Fodor, Dr. Kiril A. Streletzky
  3. “Using a Staggered Herringbone Microfluidic Mixer to Synthesize Gold Nanoparticles.” Jacqueline Matz (Duquesne University), Dr. Chandra Kothapalli
  4. “Length Distribution of DNA-Wrapped Boron Nitride Nanotubes.” Johnathan E. Weicherding (University of Wisconsin – River Falls), Dr. Geyou Ao
  5. “Design and Synthesis of Elastin-Like Polypeptide Diblock Copolymers for Biomedical Applications.” Biaggio Uricoli (Rowan University), Dr. Nolan B. Holland
  6. “Preparing Low-Density Collagen Hydrogels Using Elastin-Like Polypeptide Cross-Linkers.” Zack Hogan (Rutgers University), Dr. Nolan B. Holland
  7. “Mapping Evanescent Wave Scattering from Anisotropic Particles for Total Internal Reflection Microscopy.” Theodore Markiewicz (Rowan University), Dr. Christopher Wirth
  8. “Studying the Transition of Polymeric Microgels with Light Scattering.” Samantha Hudson (Hiram College), Dr. Kiril A. Streletzky

To read more about these projects, please read the projects’ final abstracts [LINK]

Student Highlights:

Students were asked to reflect on their summer, and below are some quotes highlighting their favorite parts:                                                  “My favoriteREU Picture 2 part about the REU program is that it is student lead research, meaning that I was able to design and conduct the experiments on my own. The faculty were all extremely approachable and helpful throughout the semester, with [my advisor] teaching me much more than I ever expected to learn. It was a good networking experience being able to meet professors from all over the area. The tour of NASA Glenn Research Center was an amazing opportunity where I met a lot of great researchers. As a biomedical engineering major, it was fascinating to see how vast the field is, listening to various lecturers from physics to polymer science.” – Summer 2017 Participant

“I found that my experience in the Soft Matter REU both helped me cultivate my skills as an independent researcher and confirm that I'd like to pursue research in the biomedical realm as a future career. [My advisor] was great; he was always willing to spend time to help clarify important concepts and protocols, but he also allowed me the autonomy to pick the research topic that interested me most. While I certainly received substantial help from both [my advisor] and the other members of [the lab], I came away from this program with the feeling that I had led the direction of a research project and made significant progress in reaching my objectives.” – Summer 2017 Participant


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“In addition to gaining hands on lab experience, participating in CSU’s REU broadened my knowledge of career options in the field of physics.  Off campus facility tours—such as NASA Glenn Research Center and Kent State Liquid Crystal Institute—offered a behind the scenes look at both graduate and professional settings, while providing networking opportunities.  The packed 10 week program gave a realistic taste of what it’s like to deal with the ups and down of research.  I feel more prepared moving forward to apply to graduate school or work in industry thanks to this REU.” – Summer 2017 Participant

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“Learning about our individual research was great but I appreciated the professors taking the time to present their research to all of the REU students too. I learned a lot, not just

about what I was doing, but about other's research as well. The emphasis on practicing oral presentations was also beneficial, especially for those of us new to research. Practicing to present our research is easier when we get along with everyone we present to. Everyone I met through the REU helped contribute a friendly atmosphere; everyone felt included and cooperative. No one felt ashamed after making a mistake; everyone was willing to help out. I made a lot of friends over the summer.

Not only did I get to develop new research skills working in laboratory, I also got to experience the city of Cleveland! There was so much to do that we did not even finish everything we had down on our to do list. From visiting landmarks like Severance Hall to watching LeBron James play an epic basketball game, there was never a dull moment. The CSU REU program focuses on ensuring that you have a great time while also preparing you for your future career in science.” – Summer 2017 Participant

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Continuing Connections:

Students were also provided with $500 in travel funds to attend conferences and present their research. A recent presentation was done by Tony Dobrila at the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) REU Symposium in Alexandria, Virginia on October 4, 2017. Future presentations include Samantha Hudson and Jacqueline Matz at the 2018 APS Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP) at the University of Toledo in January 2018, with a small delegation of REU students consisting of Samantha Hudson, Johnathan Weicherding, and Tony Dobrila planning to attend the 2018 APS March Meeting in Los Angeles, California in March 2018. To read more about Tony's presentation, please see the Cleveland State Research Letter, available here [LINK].

The overall success of the program’s first year promises and exciting and productive future for the program’s 2018 Summer.