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CurtisLab, Engineering & Life Sciences

CurtisLab of the Department of Chemical Engineering has a diverse array of ongoing projects that are generally quite applied and focus on realizing low-cost mechanisms to scale-up processes. A key benefit of CurtisLab is its highly interdisciplinary nature, which enables vicarious learning and a holistic approach to problem-solving and research. The processes are varied and range in focus across disciplines including:

  • Molecular biology (BMB);
  • Wastewater treatment (Civil/ Biochemical engineering);
  • Epidemiological modeling and entomology (Entomology, Epidemiology, Chemical Engineering);
  • Plant biotechnology (Plant Biology);
  • Process control and interfaces (Chemical / Mechanical / Electrical Engineering);
  • Mycology (Biological / Environmental Engineering)

CurtisLab heavily relies on undergraduate researchers to pursue high-risk (but high reward!!) research, encouraging them to adopt a mindset of 'fast failure' initially towards later-stage (nearly) autonomous experimentation. Over 50 honors theses have been completed in CurtisLab with many (equally-talented and dedicated) non-honors students contributing to research including (first) authorship on papers, winning poster competitions at National competitions, award of NSF graduate student fellowships, etc. With more than 400 undergraduates having worked in CurtisLab in the last 28+ years, CurtisLab alumni are throughout industry--anywhere from small startup companies (lots of biotech) to Big Ag / Big Oil / Big Pharma--and can provide a valuable network throughout one's post-baccalaureate career.

Projects anticipated to be active in the 2017-18 academic year include the following:

  • African Food Security: NSF & Gates Foundation-funded project on the propagation of crops (e.g. yam, banana, cassava/tapioca) for economic and food security in Africa. This includes work with genetic engineering, protein purification, aseptic tissue culture, bioreactor design including machining, and automation (e.g. interfacing to Arduino, Raspberry Pi, soldering, etc.). 
  • Scale-up of Fungus for Circadian Rhythm: Engineering promotes better science! We will be collaborating with other universities to grow the fungus, Neurospora crassa, to enable collaborators to better elucidate the model organism's circadian rhythm. This work emphasizes bioreactor operation, aseptic tissue culture, circuitry design/logic, etc. 
  • Algae Biofuels (& Associated Microbiome): Characterization of algae biofuels candidates using quintessential chemical engineering principles (e.g. mixing, mass transfer, productivity analysis, stoichiometric balance, and feed-forward process control). 
  • Insect Epidemiological Modeling: Includes design of an automated system for monitoring of insect fly pattern and epidemiological modeling for (insect) vector transmittance of diseases. Maker-Hacker 'types' encouraged to apply; this work will include extensive programming, circuitry logic, etc. 
  • Crop improvement and Agricultural Biosecurity:  Genetic transformation of plants (and associated plant regeneration) will be the focal point of a multi-disciplinary project wherein viruses will be delivered by insects to plants towards crop improvement and agricultural biosecurity. The work will focus on genetic engineering initially and evolve towards greenhouse studies involving both plants and insects. 
  • Wastewater Treatment: Scale-up of a novel process for wastewater treatment that generates fertilizer from sludge / biosolids that is energetically non-intensive and requires little capital investment. This work is critical to national wastewater treatment facilities which are currently approaching 'retirement' such that the technology demonstrated in the coming years will determine the fate of wastewater treatment (and associated taxpayer dollars) for decades to come.  
  • Plant propagation for biomedical products: In collaboration with partners at PSU-Harrisburg campus, genetic engineering of a metabolic pathway will be engineered into an alternative plant for enhanced yields of biomedical product. This work will focus on genetic engineering towards later scale-up in low-cost bioreactors. 

If you are interested in any of the above projects, please apply through  http://www.curtislab.org/about/interest. More information is also available at http://www.curtislab.org/research-projects. No previous experience is required; work ethic, aptitude for steep learning curve, intensity, and excitement for exploration / dealing with uncertainty are highly-valued. 

Website: http://www.curtislab.org/
Number of undergraduates needed: undefined
Minimum qualifications: No previous experience is required; work ethic, aptitude for steep learning curve, intensity, and excitement for exploration / dealing with uncertainty are highly-valued.

Contact Info

Wayne Curtis
47 Greenberg Indoor Complex
Engineering
814-863-4805
wrc2@psu.edu
Chemical Engineering