Barbi Wheelden at the SEAM Lab with fellow grad student Aaron Gonzalez

Photo courtesy of: Mark Dawson

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Chemical engineering graduate student wins National Science Foundation fellowship

A chemical engineering doctoral candidate at Ohio University's Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ College of Engineering and Technology has won a prestigious national fellowship from the National Science Foundation and the East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes (EAPSI).  

Barbara "Barbi" Wheelden will perform research abroad in South Korea this summer, spending two months in the prestigious lab of Seoul National University. She will receive a $5,000 stipend.

Wheelden noted that she was encouraged to apply for the fellowship by her mentor and adviser, Russ-Ohio Research Scholar in Coal Syngas Utilization Sunggyu "K.B." Lee, a South Korea native.

"He really takes care of his graduate students. We're very lucky," Wheelden said.

She began her work with Lee, who is one of just four eminent scholars at the University, while at The Missouri University of Science and Technology – and subsequently followed him when he joined Ohio University in 2010 in order to continue her studies and assist him with setting up his 16,000-square-foot sustainable energy and advanced materials lab. She is the third student of Lee's to be awarded the fellowship.

"This is a very competitive fellowship," Lee said. "The student and his or her research goal must be fully endorsed by the host research institution as well as the counterpart country's NSF equivalent."

While abroad, Wheelden – who is working to make biodegradable plastic more flexible to enable better use in food packaging and disposable utensils – will collaborate with experts in polymer rheology and nanotechnology.

She will also work with the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), a premier national laboratory, on issues regarding energy and the environment.

Wheelden says she welcomes another opportunity to study abroad. As an undergraduate, she served with Engineers Without Borders helping communities in Honduras improve their water quality and water distribution systems.

"Different cultures approach problems in different ways," Wheelden said. "I want to be a globally-minded researcher."