Undergrads Present Research to American Chemical Society

Students’ Work on Electrically Conducting Polymers Highlighted

Mark Lalli, left, and Neha Manohar.

Mark Lalli, left, and Neha Manohar.

09/01/2010
By Edwin L. Aguirre

Two chemical engineering undergraduate students ߞ; Mark Lalli and Neha Manohar ߞ; gave oral presentations of their research at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) held in August in Boston. About 13,000 attendees participated in the technical sessions, which showcased cutting-edge research and discoveries in chemistry and other related fields.

“Both Mark and Neha have been working on summer internships with Prof. Sanjeev Manohar in Chemical Engineering,” says Engineering Dean John Ting. “Mark is a Commonwealth Scholar who is entering his sophomore year, while Neha is just entering her freshman year. She would have been a Commonwealth Scholar, too, if she lived in Massachusetts.”

Neha, 17, is the youngest of Manohar’s three daughters. The family lives in New Hampshire.

In his presentation, Mark described the studies that he and his co-researchers had performed on the surface morphology of thin films of material derived from polyaniline — a flexible, electrically conducting polymer — that were cast on glass using different solvents. His team observed significant differences in the electrical conductivity, water repulsion and spectroscopic properties of the film depending on the solvent used.

“This technique can potentially be used to fine-tune the solid-state properties of conducting polymers during processing,” he says.

For her part, Neha discussed the work that she and her co-investigators had done in synthesizing bulk quantities of nanostructured materials for use in energy storage and chemical/biological sensors. She reported on a new route they discovered in producing electrically conducting poly-2-ethylaniline microtubules using a chemical oxidation process.

“The tubules are composed entirely of nanofibers that have high gas uptake and charge storage capacity,” she says. “This opens new opportunities for the use of these microtubules in the electronics industry.”

The weeks of preparation and long practice sessions Mark and Neha put into their 20-minute presentations paid off.

“It was a great experience,” says Neha. “We were surprised at how smooth everything went.”

“This was their first oral presentation at a national meeting of the ACS,” says Manohar. “The event’s organizer was very happy with our undergrads. She says their presentations resembled those of senior grad students and postdocs in quality. She now feels very comfortable in recommending undergrad presentations in future ACS meetings.”

Manohar notes that Neha was the youngest participant at the Boston meeting.

“She just graduated from Nashua High so she was still technically a high-school student when she gave her talk,” he says.

Mark and Neha are in the process of preparing papers on their research for publication in a refereed journal. Neha already has four published research papers to her credit.

From the beginning, Mark has been interested chemical engineering, especially nanomaterials engineering.

“I come from a family of engineers ߞ; mechanical, biomedical and network engineers,” he says. “I’m the first to study chemical engineering.”

“I’ve been interested in science in general since I was young,” says Neha. “I initially wanted to be an astrophysicist.”

This is not surprising considering Neha’s dad comes from a family of distinguished physicists ߞ; the maternal uncle and cousin of Manohar’s grandfather were Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, respectively. Raman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930, Chandrasekhar in 1983.

However, the allure of chemical engineering was stronger for Neha.

“I wanted more lab experience,” she says. “I enjoy the hands-on experience and seeing results firsthand. I want to follow the footsteps of my dad.”