2023 Tripathy Memorial Endowed Graduate Fellowship Award Recipients

Award Recipients
Award winners: Akanksha Patel (left) and Harini Amalka Perera (right).

The Tripathy Memorial is proud to present the 2023 Tripathy Memorial Endowed Graduate Fellowship Award to Akanksha Patel and Harini Amalka Perera. These senior graduate students have presented outstanding work in their dedicated research areas and continue to push the boundaries of science, engineering, and knowledge. Highlighted below are the summaries to their
research. Congratulations to these remarkable students!

Akanksha Patel

Graduate Student, Department of Plastics
Advisor: Prof. Margaret Sobkowicz-Kline 
Research Topic for Ph.D. Degree: Improving Enzymatic Depolymerization of Postconsumer Poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) Waste via Pretreatment Methods 
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is widely used in various applications due to its desirable properties such as transparency, strength-to-weight ratio, and chemical resistance etc. However, the high demand for PET leads to increased waste, necessitating more efficient recycling methods. This research aims to develop a solvent-free, low-energy approach using enzymes to break down polyester waste. Enzymatic recycling of PET is ecologically friendly, reducing harmful chemical use and energy costs. Material properties like Tg, crystallinity, molecular weight, and surface area can enhance enzyme efficiency. This study introduces pretreatment methods via extruders that disrupt the molecular structure of post-consumer polyester waste, improving binding sites for enzyme reaction. The pretreated samples exhibit reduced molecular weight, Tg, and crystallinity, with increased surface area. Applying leaf-branch compost cutinase (LCC) enzyme to these pretreated substrates enhances enzymatic depolymerization and monomer yield. Integrating these pretreatment strategies into the plastic supply chain could enhance circularity and sustainability by providing a faster and energy-efficient polyester depolymerization using LCC enzymes.

Harini Amalka Perera

Graduate Student, Department of Chemistry 
Advisor: Professor Mingdi Yan 
Research Topic for Ph.D. Degree: Development of a Magnetic Photoaffinity Probe for Capturing and Identification of Trehalose-binding Bacterial Proteins
Mycobacteria outer membrane, rich in lipids and essential disaccharide precursors such as trehalose, has been the prime target for drug development against tuberculosis. Previous studies conducted in our lab have successfully shown that trehalose, when conjugated to nanoparticles, led to specific interactions with mycobacteria, and nanoparticle-based drug delivery systems exhibited enhanced antibacterial activity due to functionalization with trehalose. However, the mechanism of how trehalose-conjugated nanoparticles interact with mycobacteria needs to be better understood. A trehalose-functionalized photoaffinity nanoprobe that could photo-crosslink the protein receptor on mycobacteria was developed to investigate these specific interactions further. The nanoprobe could magnetically isolate the trehalose-bound protein complex without additional affinity purification. The successfully synthesized and characterized photoaffinity trehalose-functionalized nanoprobe was employed in optimizing the protein receptor's capture, isolation, and identification. This method is expected to facilitate the detection of receptors expressed in other bacterial species or human cells by simply changing the ligand.

Pictured left to right: Ashok Cholli, Susan Thomson-Tripathy, Jayant Kumar, Akanksha Patel, Harini Amalka Perera and Ramaswamy Nagarajan.

The Selection Committee