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Blinn College engineering students take research beyond the classroom

Risheil Ortiz, Celine Torres, and Kaitlin Warnke selected to showcase findings at American Chemical Society National Meeting in New Orleans

April 25, 2018

From left: Celine Torres, Risheil Ortiz, and Kaitlin Warnke, research students on the Blinn College-Bryan Campus, recently presented their research project, “Stability of C60 Fullerene Solutions in Vegetable Oils,” at the 254th American Chemical Society National Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans.


 

Blinn College engineering students Risheil Ortiz, Celine Torres, and Kaitlin Warnke knew the road to successful transfers, internships, and career opportunities required undergraduate research experience.

The trio never imagined the opportunity would come so soon in their collegiate careers.

Last year, the second-year students learned their chemistry professor, Dr. Lee Don Bienski, was seeking assistance with a project he has been working on since 2015. Ortiz (Puerto Rico), Torres (Cypress), and Warnke (Corpus Christi) immediately volunteered to author a piece of original research.

“It is very rare to have the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research at a two-year college,” Warnke said. “I was excited to work alongside Dr. Bienski to conduct real, hands-on research beyond the classroom. This experience has provided a solid foundation for when I pursue more advanced science courses and research programs at a four-year university.”

The group’s research focused on the stability of buckminsterfullerene – a type of Carbon-60 – found in common cooking oils, such as avocado, olive, and sunflower oil. The students strategically combined samples of buckminsterfullerene with the oils to create a solution that would then be compared to commercial C60 oils available on the market. The goal of the project was to see if the commercial oils were accurately advertised in regard to quality and content.

Since January, the team has met with Bienski to conduct experiments, gather results, and write reports regarding their findings. Working alongside an expert in the field gave each student the opportunity to become familiar with the research process and gain valuable experience that will translate to four-year universities and beyond.

“It is very impressive for this group to dedicate many hours of their own time to a project outside of the classroom,” Bienski said. “We are fortunate to have such hard-working, motivated students at Blinn and to have the resources to involve them in research this early in their educational careers.”

The team presented its research at the 254th American Chemical Society National (ACS) Meeting and Exposition in New Orleans. The biannual conference attracts approximately 15,000 chemists, chemical engineers, academicians, and graduate and postdoctoral students from around the world.

To earn an invitation to the conference, students must conduct months of research before submitting abstracts detailing their findings to be reviewed by industry professionals. With most presentations coming from four-year universities, it is a unique honor for Blinn to be represented.

Ortiz said it was an even greater achievement to be the only all-female presentation group in attendance.

“As presenters, we may have been in the minority, but the conference featured many female chemists and industry professionals,” she said. “It is very empowering to see women becoming more involved in science, technology, engineering, and math, and, hopefully, we can be an example for future female students who pursue research and careers in this industry.”

The students received accolades from numerous attendees, including the CEO of a national C60 manufacturing company who offered samples of his product to be used for future experiments. This experience has motivated the group to continue to participate in undergraduate research projects and to advocate for other students to get involved in research opportunities while at Blinn.

“This experience has ignited a passion that I did not know I even had,” Torres said. “I am very motivated to continue research – not just while in school but possibly making it a career.”

Ortiz is enrolled in the Texas A&M Engineering Academy at Blinn-Brenham, Torres participates in the Texas A&M Engineering Academy at Blinn-Bryan, and Warnke is a full-time Blinn student majoring in engineering with an emphasis in aerospace engineering. All three students are on track to transfer into Texas A&M’s College of Engineering this fall.

The engineering academies at the Brenham and Bryan campuses give students an opportunity to pursue their engineering degree while co-enrolled at Blinn and Texas A&M. In addition to the Engineering Academy, Blinn offers two 60-credit hour engineering degrees: an Associate of Science degree in engineering and an Associate of Science degree with a Field of Study in engineering. These programs prepare students to pursue any type of engineering career, including specialties such as aerospace, biomedical, civil, electrical, mechanical, petroleum, and more.

Registration for May Minimester, Summer I and II, and Fall 2018 are now available. For enrollment or financial aid information, visit www.blinn.edu.