This summer, Professor Wakabayashi's laboratory focused on ways to improve the applicability of sustainable plastics (i.e., finding ways to go green and replace everyday plastics with bio-based, biodegradable, and/or recycled plastics).
The research that Evan Miu and Sam Jubb are conducting is part of an ongoing project with a regional plastics recycling company, Waste Not Technologies. This project started in 2013 when Pat Kelley, the owner and founder of Waste Not Technologies, approached the Bucknell Small Business Development Center to explore ways to improve his fencing products. Recycled plastic materials are typically much weaker and more unreliable than new plastics. Through a novel processing technique called solid-state/melt extrusion (SSME), which is available only in Professor Wakabayashi's laboratory here at Bucknell, many of the issues associated with recycled plastics were eliminated or suppressed. For example, we observed a fifteen-fold increase in the tensile toughness of recycled polyethylene via SSME processing, essentially recovering the performance of the new polyethylene. SSME has also been able to nearly eliminate all uncertainty associated with the properties of recycled plastics, making a very consistent and reliable product. The future goal of the project is to elucidate the "why" of the property enhancements, and eventually publish in a scientific journal.
The research that Chau Le is undertaking this summer is an expansion of a previous Master's thesis (Alex Fielding, CHEG '11) and an Honors thesis (Brian Lynch, CHEG '14) on a bio-derived, biodegradable plastic called polylactic acid. Because of its chemical make-up, polylactic acid has much potential to replace petroleum-derived plastics in a wide range of end products, from food packaging to automotive parts. However, the bioplastic can be successfully used only if it undergoes controlled crystallization. Solid-state processing methods in Prof. Wakabayashi's laboratory are efficient and effective at providing favorable crystallization kinetics in polylactic acid materials, and thus increase the chance of this bioplastic being applied in various commercial products. One future direction of this project is exploring the changes in biodegradability of polylactic acid upon different processing methods.
Evan Miu '16, Chemical Engineering
Aside from my main line of research with Waste Not Technologies, I also had the opportunity to work with a number of Fortune 500 chemical companies on collaborative projects, which provided me with a taste of what corporate culture and work is like. Between research and these collaborations, I have learned so much more than a standard lecture can teach, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. Before coming to Bucknell, I never thought that I would have the ability to do research as an undergraduate, let alone the ability to work with the big players of the chemical industry. But, thanks to the overwhelming and enthusiastic support of current and former Bucknellians alike, I have been able to do just that. I am truly thankful for having been able to be here at Bucknell for the summer, and I will always see it as one of the most educational times in my life.
Sam Jubb '17, Chemical Engineering
I came into Bucknell knowing that I wanted to do research after my first year, but I had no idea how much I would learn from it. Through working with Prof. Wakabayashi, I've expanded upon the concepts I learned in my classes in the past year, in addition to already beginning to learn things that I wouldn't have started learning until at least next year. My work has allowed me to not only get slightly ahead of my classmates, but it also further cemented my desire to work in the materials science industry. My experience this summer has also helped me gain a relationship with Prof. Wakabayashi outside of just classroom teaching. Performing research for the past 10 weeks has definitely been an eye-opening experience, and I can't wait to try and apply what I've learned this summer in my classes next year and any work opportunities I have in the coming summers while I attend Bucknell.
Chau Le '16, Chemical Engineering
Doing research this summer has been the most transformative and enriching experience that I have had so far as an undergraduate at Bucknell. Through Prof. Wakabayashi's guidance and dedication to our research project, I was able to acquire technical skills while gaining a truly hands-on experience in practical applications that are widely used in the polymer industry. The research has allowed me to grow beyond the classroom by giving me the opportunity to refine skills which are essentials for my personal and professional development. I believe that this is a stepping stone for several other learning experience for my future in and outside of Bucknell.