NanoLINK brings innovative solutions to campus

This summer, University of South Carolina students are going on a research journey that teaches them about all things nano. The NanoLINK program is designed to immerse engineering students in the rapid development of nanotechnology and its prevalence in our daily lives.

Participants become involved in the NanoLINK fellowship after going through an extensive application process and prerequisite course that prepares them for a rewarding research experience.

Working with nano-materials brings many benefits to the world of civil engineering. Products containing nano-particles are stronger, faster and more durable. But the improper disposal of these materials can harm the environment.

Scott Miller, a third-year civil engineering student, is developing a model that will identify potential sources of toxicity from nano-particles in landfills.

In high school, Miller’s interest was sparked in both architecture and engineering. After finding that the two programs were combined at the university, he decided he wanted to experience the best of both worlds at Carolina.

 “I think it’s really cool that we get a one-on-one researching opportunity with our professors at USC. As we’re exploring this trial and error process, we’re finding out solutions that could make a big difference,” Miller says.

Grace Porter, Elizabeth Shelar, Ethan Washam and Brittany Thornton are also busy at work in the NanoLINK program this summer. They are exploring geo-membranes, assessing nuclear waste and even working with several new forms of nanotechnology.

Miller and Porter team up to examine how nano-particles move throughout trash in landfills. Before entering the landfill, pollutants are usually treated in water to remove any toxicity. However, because carbon nano-tubes are difficult to treat in water, potential for the toxic particles to escape the landfill and pollute the environment are higher. The two researchers must find a better solution for disposing of these products.

Throughout this experimental process, Miler has expanded his understanding of lab research and nanotechnology. He says he has grasped a firmer appreciation for thorough procedures and the discovery of new ideas.

“Before you get into the lab, you always assume that researchers have these beautiful plans and they always turn out how they intend but I’ve learned there’s a lot of problem solving in the lab, “Miller says. “In terms of finding solutions, there is an accepting nature when you make a mistake; it becomes a tool for learning.”

Miller credits NanoLINK for making him a better future civil engineer but more importantly a stronger student.

“The program has given me a peek into what it’s like to be a graduate school researcher. It’s opened my mind to think about the possibilities of furthering my education in ways I hadn’t previously considered,” Miller says.

The participants agree that this experience was essential to understanding the aims of research in the scientific community.

“Whenever we as a society discover new innovative materials, we tend to run with it before we know all the implications of working with the product,” Miller says. “As undergraduate students, it’s important to understand the background of nanotechnology, where it can go wrong and what it can do to help the world we live in.”

Miller says the NanoLINK program has given him a renewed interest in becoming more involved in research. One day, he plans to explore new avenues of research that will help improve the environment in many different ways.

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