Opening the door to chemical engineering

ASU students join the American Institute of Chemical Engineers to gain insights, kick-start their careers

March 21, 2023

Arizona State University engineering students interested in networking and professional development opportunities need look no further than their local student branch of The American Institute of Chemical Engineers, or AIChE.

ALChE is a global network of chemical engineering professionals. With more than 60,000 members from 110 countries, AIChE offers its members access to a wide breadth of resources, including best practices for chemical engineering processes and methods, learning opportunities from recognized authorities and a community of colleagues to connect with. Three students in lab gear examine their car battery using various instruments. Arizona State University students (from left to right) Salma Ly, Julianna Joya and Ignazio Macaluso examine the chemical battery that will power their entry to the annual Chem-E-Car Competition hosted at the American Institute of Engineers, or AIChE, Annual Meeting. The students are members of the student organization AIChE at ASU. Photo by Hayley Hilborn/ASU Download Full Image

Members in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering student branch of ALChE enjoy many of the same benefits as their professional counterparts, as well as hands-on activities to engage and enhance student abilities.

The most recent AIChE at ASU event was a joint event with student organizations the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and Material Advantage hosting EV Group. Up next is a research presentation by Jerry Lin, Regents Professor of chemical engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, that will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 23, in the Engineering Center G-Wing G335 on the Tempe campus. Those interested in attending can RSVP here.

Developing professional relationships

AIChE at ASU members are encouraged to attend general monthly meetings to learn about upcoming opportunities and events. The student organization also hosts a variety of supplemental activities that cater to specific interests among its members.

Chapter President Matthew Hayes, a senior chemical engineering student, says AIChE programming works to build its members’ soft and technical skills. The group hosts industry professionals to lead activities like hiring events, resume-building exercises and day-in-the-life presentations where professionals map out what a typical day might look like for a chemical engineer.

AIChE at ASU’s executive committee has appointed two vice presidents: junior chemical engineering student Zachary Hargus, who manages external affairs, and Sumi Ramachandran, a senior chemical engineering student who manages the group’s internal affairs. Hargus connects with industry partners like Intel Corporation, EMD Electronics and, more recently, Tawain Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) for engagement opportunities.

“I wanted to expose chemical engineers to a variety of fields,” Hargus says. “Chemical engineering is extremely versatile. It can be applied in a lot of different ways, even within aerospace engineering or general sciences. I think that people should give a lot more thought to it because I actually had a lot of fun exploring the possibilities through internships I was offered through AIChE.”

While AIChE at ASU has diversified its pool of industry engagements, its next goal is to develop a relationship with a pharmaceutical company like PSC Biotech.

“We’re hoping to expand to different industries, as well as some companies outside of the state,” Hayes says.

The organization also works with faculty to host academic-related events where they can showcase their research and offer opportunities for student involvement.

“We try to push chemical engineering students to get involved in research pretty early on, and help them with that process,” Hayes says.

A professional advantage

Each year, the AIChE professional branch hosts an annual meeting that provides an educational forum for chemical engineers interested in innovation and professional growth. Last fall, the conference was hosted at the Phoenix Convention Center.

Abhinav Acharya, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and AIChE at ASU’s faculty advisor, says Hayes took the initiative to inspire fellow students to attend the in-person event following the pandemic.

“Matthew has shown great dedication to his peers’ success,” Acharya says. “He worked hours to help facilitate the 2022 AIChE Annual Student Conference, which was a part of AIChE’s Annual Meeting in Phoenix as the conference host school. He gathered more than 40 fellow undergraduate students to volunteer at the conference, enabling each of them to attend.”

Each annual meeting also hosts a Chem-E-Car Competition to engage college students in designing and constructing a car powered by a chemical energy source.

After years of being unable to compete due to the pandemic, AIChE at ASU participated in the 2022 competition with a team led by third-year chemical engineering student Salma Ly. Ly oversaw the group’s weekly meetings, where they worked together to construct the body of the vehicle and test the viability of its chemical battery.

Due to extenuating circumstances, the team was unable to compete at the national conference in 2022, but they are working diligently to develop a new vehicle that will compete in the regional competition in April 2023.

Small car created by the students in the ChemE Car group.

The AIChE at ASU team’s completed car entered in the 2022 Chem-E-Car Competition. Photo by Salma Ly/ASU

Why join AIChE at ASU?

“Being president of AIChE at ASU helped me improve my leadership abilities, presentation skills and my public speaking,” Hayes says.

He credits his connection to AIChE for helping him gain an internship with EMD Electronics. After graduating, he plans to pursue graduate studies in chemical engineering.

Hargus joined AIChE during his first year, when he was elected senator, and has held an officer position in the club since then. He says his early connection to the organization helped him establish his footing at the university and he encourages his peers to get involved as early as possible.

“I think a lot of people don’t run for officer positions because they think it will be a lot of work,” Hargus says. “And it definitely is, but people underestimate the reward. You get to work with more experienced students and you are exposed to industry and the inner workings of the organization early on. There’s a lot to learn.”

Hayley Hilborn

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

ASU study examines why some environments have more species than others

Stalagmites tell the climate story about species diversity

March 21, 2023

Why do some regions of the world have so many species of plants while others have so few?

This is one of the great enduring research questions in the biological sciences, and there have been many ideas put forward as an answer. Close-up photo of a protea plant. Protea plant, native to South Africa Cape Floristic Region. Photo courtesy Kerstin Braun Download Full Image

One idea is that regions that have had relatively stable climates through the millennia will have greater numbers of species. In contrast, dramatic climate change of the type we are experiencing today will drive species extinct, thus winnowing away diversity.

A study“Climatic stability recorded in speleothems may contribute to higher biodiversity in the Cape Floristic Region.” Kerstin Braun, Richard M. Cowling, Miryam Bar-Matthews, Avner Ayalong, Tami Zilberman, Mark Difford, R. Lawrence Edwards, Xianglei Li, Curtis W. Marean. Journal of Biogeography. published in the Journal of Biogeography by an international transdisciplinary team of scientists, led by Arizona State University researchers Curtis Marean and Kerstin Braun, provides compelling evidence for this idea from the study of climate change from stalagmites.

The Cape Floristic Region on Africa’s southern tip has one of the most diverse floras on Earth despite having infertile soils and hot, dry summers. Normally, more productive, wetter regions have more diversity.

“To understand the reasons for this diversity, we need to develop long climate records from a large sample of regions in the world and study their climate stability relative to their floral species diversity,” said Marean, who is an ASU Foundation Professor, a research scientist with the Institute of Human Origins and School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and a Nelson Mandela University (South Africa) Honorary Professor.

To do that, Marean developed a program to find and study stalagmites throughout the Cape of South Africa and collaborate with a transdisciplinary team of scientists including South African botanist Richard Cowling of Nelson Mandela University.

Map of South Africa

Topography of South Africa with the location of the cave and major cities. Gray shading indicates the Cape Floristic Region and a dark grey outline marks the area dominated by winter rainfall (>60% rainfall between April and September). Image by Kerstin Braun PhD.

Why stalagmites?

Stalagmites can preserve long records of climate change; they grow in caves, sometimes for over tens to hundreds of thousands of years, and they preserve changes in stable isotopes of oxygen and carbon that depend on the rain water and vegetation above the cave site. They can also be accurately dated with a technique called uranium-thorium dating.

Marean and colleagues rescued a set of stalagmites destined for destruction by mining at Cape Limeworks in Robertson in the Cape Floristic Region. The stalagmites, which grew between about 670,000 and 240,000 years ago, were then studied by Braun, an assistant research scholar in the Institute of Human Origins and lead author of the study.

Stalagmite in a cave

Cape Lime Robertston cave. One of the studied stalagmites that grew in place for nearly 400,000 years. Photo by Curtis Marean

“We compared the Cape Limeworks records to those from other sites in similar summer-dry, Mediterranean-type climates but with lower diversities than the Cape Floristic Region," Braun said. "The results clearly show that the southwestern Cape was climatically much more stable through glacial-interglacial changes than the other areas."

The results are significant because the Cape experiences a Mediterranean climate with dry, hot summers and mild, wet winters. This means that temperatures are generally low during the main growth season.

Common hypotheses for the evolution of diverse floras were developed to explain the high diversity of the wet tropics and often postulate that warm and wet conditions are needed for the evolution of high diversity — for example, through increasing the speed of metabolism or interactions between organisms.

These hypotheses don’t apply in arid Mediterranean regions, yet many of the floras in those regions exceed those of many tropical rainforests in the number of species per area.

Researchers from Mediterranean climate regions have long recognized their exceptional floras and proposed alternative hypotheses for their evolution. Cowling thinks that environmental stability and low extinction rates are a major factor in the accumulation of species.

The study is the first time that a paleoclimate reconstruction spanning several hundreds of thousands of years backs up these claims.

Cowling notes that “These findings show that relative climate stability over evolutionary time explains patterns of diversity in Mediterranean regions: The more stable, the richer the flora, with the Cape at the head of the pack. It’s possible that the climate stability theory applies also to tropical rainforest regions.”

“Our results," said Marean, “provide a dire warning of the downstream impacts of rapid climate change that we are now experiencing. Our study shows that rapid climate change annihilates plant lineages, so the human-induced rapid climate change we see today will do the same with horrific consequences for the animals and humans that rely on those plants.”

This research was funded by the USA National Science Foundation, the Hyde Family Foundations, the John Templeton Foundation, Arizona State University, the European Commission, the South African National Research Foundation and Nelson Mandela University.

Julie Russ

Assistant director, Institute of Human Origins