The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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ChE Undergrad Is Master of All Trades and Jack of None

Ashley Kaiser

Ashley Kaiser

Ashley Kaiser, a junior undergraduate student from Hopkinton, Massachusetts, has packed a lot of varied accomplishment into her years as a major in the Chemical Engineering Department. She’s a member of the Commonwealth Honors College with a cumulative GPA of 3.97 and has made the Dean’s List from 2013 through 2015. In addition, she’s a member of the UMass student chapters of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), Tau Beta Pi, and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

Ashley was a speaker at SWE’s 2015 Women in Engineering Day, which hosted some 250 high school women, and she works as a Peer Mentor on the Engineering RAP floor in the residence hall, where she promotes the academic success of over 40 first-year engineering students through mentoring and tutoring initiatives. Ashley is also the co-founder and vice president of the UMass Amherst Club Gymnastics Team and served as a volunteer for the Dana-Farber 5K Running Team and the Relay for Life Team during the years of 2009 to 2014. In the process, she raised $2,535 for Dana-Farber and the American Cancer Society.

Ashley’s motivation for this last activity was very powerful and very personal.

“Several of my friends and family members have battled cancer over the years,” she explains. “In fact, my best friend and high school classmate, Emily, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma a few years ago. In response to her sudden diagnosis, my close friends and I decided to run an annual 5K as part of a Dana-Farber fundraising team, which we appropriately named ‘Team Emily.’ After extensive treatment, Emily is doing well and thriving at college now. I am happy to fundraise for the American Cancer Society and Dana-Farber in support of her and all others who courageously fight the battle against cancer.”

Beyond Ashley’s academic achievements while navigating the very tough ChE curriculum, she has also undertaken several very productive extracurricular research activities.

“During my first year at UMass Amherst, I joined the nanomaterials-focused research group led by Professor Christos Dimitrakopoulos in the Department of Chemical Engineering,” Ashley says. “Since then, I have been studying graphene, a 2-dimensional material that has a higher tensile strength than steel and one of the highest known electrical conductivities.”

A single layer of graphite, graphene is a one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms bonded together in a flat, honeycomb lattice. Ashley is currently developing and transferring chemical-vapor-deposited (CVD) graphene to create a novel 2D composite material, and she collaborates with Ph.D. student Yuxi Wang. Ashley uses Raman spectroscopy for characterization and aims to test the mechanical and electrical properties of this material.

“For my research project, I grow graphene in a high-temperature reactor and chemically alter its structure through various annealing procedures,” Ashley explains. “This treatment may allow for even higher strength and different electrical properties that could make it suitable for use in digital circuits. I also help fabricate and test graphene-based transistors to measure the electrical performance of our material.”

A publication on her research is in progress, and she presented a graphene research poster at the 2014 Sukant Tripathy Annual Memorial Symposium and the 2015 Massachusetts Statewide Undergraduate Research Conference.

In addition to that research, at the start of her freshman year Ashley helped lead a student team that developed a simple, efficient, and cost-effective method for extracting inorganic arsenic from water using coffee grounds for use in developing countries. The group has presented results showing a reduction of the arsenic concentration from 200 to 20 parts per billion.

As if all this exciting activity were not enough to keep Ashley busy, she spent the summer of 2015 doing a research and development internship at the 3M Corporate Research Process Laboratory in St. Paul, Minnesota, focusing on the vapor coating and surface modification of nanomaterials. There, she developed CVD graphene and high temperature plasma processing techniques and performed materials characterization with Raman spectroscopy and scanning electron microscopy. Ashley also compiled experimental results with additional AFM and XPS analyses and gave two technical talks and a research poster presentation to colleagues.

Just for good measure, Ashley was the co-author of a 3M internal report titled “Thermal and Plasma Graphene CVD Process.”

What does the future hold for Ashley? Undoubtedly, she will have her choice of various visionary opportunities in chemical engineering. Meanwhile, in the near future, she has her sights set on finalizing her research on graphene. “I look forward to presenting my work at two separate technical and research conferences this spring,” she says. (February 2016)