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Chemical engineering student presents prize-winning poster

It is no small accomplishment to win the Chancellor’s Award in the Physical Sciences and Engineering category at the 2009 Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievements Forum.

This year judges reviewed the posters of 140 undergraduates and rated them on theoretical motivation, context within each student’s academic discipline, mastery of the relevant concepts and presentation quality. Students’ enthusiasm, engagement and the project’s significance were also taken into account, and after the last easel was stored, Kathryn Trenshaw, a senior in chemical engineering was declared the winner.

“I had no idea it even was a contest,” said Trenshaw. “When I received the e-mail notifying me that I was the winner and that I needed to send my Social Security Number in order to process the $500 prize check, I thought it was some sort of scam.”

Trenshaw has been working in the research lab of Patrick Pinhero, associate professor of chemical engineering for the past year.

“We’ve been working on a process to recycle spent nuclear fuel — a method of closing the fuel cycle to make the technology more attractive,” Trenshaw said.

Specifically, she has been looking at separating actinides — radioactive elements — from nuclear waste in water, the topic of her paper. “We’d like to be able to separate them in a molten salt solution at very high temperatures. It’s more efficient with less waste,” said Trenshaw.

When she first joined Pinhero’s research group, she was charged with researching resources and costs of to build or acquire a new alpha-emitter/actinide laboratory at the University of Missouri Research Reactor (MURR) Center.

This task did not just comprise developing a spread sheet of items and costs,” said Pinhero. “It involved digging into the scientific literature to determine exactly what size room is required, ventilation needs, contents and layout.”

Trenshaw plans to attend graduate school at the University of Illinois-Champaign Urbana in the fall and eventually earn her doctorate so that she can return to academia as a research professor.

“I’m interested in working doing work with fuel cells and solar cells,” said Trenshaw. “I love the tutoring I do at the Student Success Center and the spark in someone’s eye when they get it. I’ve also enjoyed working as a TA. If you add that all together, it spells academia.”



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