PTHS Senior Combines Research Internship and Early College Academy to Jump Start Engineering Studies

Dr. Seay’s research areas include biofuels, sustainability, and green engineering. His current project is focused on the development of a processor that can be built cheaply in underdeveloped countries from materials that are readily available that turns waste, such as plastic, into commodities like pesticides and fertilizers, and biofuel.

“Three years ago we were looking for a way to make biofuel in Africa with local products they use there,” Browning said. “The project has grown into using the same processer that makes organic pesticide and fertilizer from biomass to also turn waste plastic into biofuel.”

Browning said that students and professors from the college have traveled to Cameroon and Uganda in Africa, and also to India to test the processor and refine it.

It was the latest research into the use of the processor to convert waste plastic like milk cartons and grocery bags into a biofuel that’s somewhere between kerosene and diesel that took the UKATS team to Washington D.C.

The UKATS research team had received a Phase 1 grant of $15,000 from the EPA P3 design competition to help fund their research. They staffed a booth and made presentations at the National Science and Engineering Festival in order to compete for a Phase 2 award, which is $75,000. The team also competed for smaller awards, and won the AICHE YCOSST award, which was presented by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Youth Council on Sustainable Science and Technology. The $1,000 award also gives the team the opportunity to make a presentation at the 2016 meeting of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Browning is looking forward to continuing the research as she graduates and enrolls at the UK College of Engineering. Her participation in the PTHS Early College Academy has helped her accrue college credit that will make her course load lighter and enable her to complete her course of study in four years rather than the five years it normally takes to complete an engineering degree.

“The advantage of the Early College Academy for me is that engineering is supposed to be a five year course of study, but I will go in with enough general education college credit to cut it down to four years,” Browning said. “Another advantage is that this year I am already taking calculus (at WKCTC) with all the engineering freshmen, so I already know them. When I begin school in the fall, there will be sophomores that I know who can help me.”

As she looks back on her experience as an intern, Browning sees a spiral of growth that she hopes to continue as she pursues her undergraduate degree.

“The opportunity to be an intern gave me the chance to make a meaningful contribution to sustainability on the planet,” Browning said. “The more I was able to contribute, the more I liked it. The more I liked it, the more I grew, so it’s just an everlasting cycle.”

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