Under the supervision of faculty advisors Daeyeon Lee, Zahra Fakhraai, Orkan Telhan, and Russell Composto, I worked on a project inspired by the first ACT within the REACT program here at the University of Pennsylvania. The purpose of the project was to create an emergency relief tent that could be easily deployed to refugees and people displaced by natural disasters. Alongside five other undergraduate engineers and chemistry majors, I worked to develop a prototype of an emergency relief tent that serves the function of water diversion and collection with the aid of active coatings. In our particular project, we desired a superhydrophobic coating that would easily divert water due to its water repelling and slippery nature. At the end of this ten-week project, our team was able to develop a tent module incorporating a superhydrophobic graphene nanoplatelet coating. The strategic design of the tent and the placement of the coating along the seams of the tent enhance water diversion and collection.
Our tent team was comprised of a design, manufacturing, and characterization groups. As a member of the characterization group, I used light microscopy and atomic force microscopy, as well as scanning electron microscopy images obtained by our graduate student mentors to analyze coatings produced by the manufacturing group. From these methods, I was able to analyzing the surface uniformity, morphology, and topography. With this information, I was then able to collaborate with the other members of the characterization and manufacturing groups in order to determine how the coatings could best be optimized. For example, when I imaged two different graphene nanoplatelet coated samples; one with 10 layers and the other with 15 layers, I concluded that the 15 layer coated sample showed better uniformity by completely covering all the fibers of our tent fabric. I then suggested to the manufacturing team to only continue making samples with 15 layers of the graphene coating.
This research opportunity was my first chemistry research experience, leading me to learn more about the physical chemistry field as well as the social aspect of conducting scientific research. Although physical chemistry is not a course I completed prior to this project, it was very clear that there is a relationship between learning academic material and actually using that information to solve problems. Analyzing samples in a lab myself was also different from previous lab courses taken as I had to figure out what steps to take in order to obtain results and fix problems rather than just completing an already developed step by step lab procedure handed to me. Since this project was also a group project, I learned how to better collaborate with others as well as how to obtain my own space and ground even within a group environment. Overall this research experience was an illuminating one that helped me to have a better understanding of what I might want to do with my future in the field of chemistry.