Houston ninth-grader working with Texas A&M chemical engineer wins bronze in science olympiad

Sarah Akbani, a ninth-grade student from Harmony School of Science in Houston working with Zhengdong Cheng, assistant professor in the Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering at Texas A&M University, has received a bronze medal in the International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering and Environment Project (ISWEEEP) Olympiad, an international science fair for middle and high school students.Akbani, who is working in Cheng's complex fluids laboratory was recognized for her research dealing with efficiently extracting heavy oils using Janus particles. Collaborating with Cheng and graduate students Andres Mejia and Peng He, Akbani used Janus particles to effectively emulsify oil that is difficult to extract from the ground. Janus particles are two-faced nanoparticles.The team also designed smart Janus particles using a polymer that can change characteristics from being hydrophilic to hydrophobic, responding to a temperature increase, Cheng says.These particles, he explains, will wrap up underground oil at high temperature and release the oil automatically once out of the well. The process is effective while being affordable and environmentally friendly in that the particles can be reused without losing their chemical structure, Cheng notes.ISWEEEP is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to solving the planet's sustainability problems. The projects are focused in three categories: energy, engineering and environment. This year, there were 1,000 students from 70 countries and 43 U.S. states who submitted a total of 450 projects based improving the planet.Before this year's ISWEEP, Akbani also competed in the Houston Science Fair where she won received first-place honors and a special award from the Houston Marine Association. She also received honorable mention in the category awards. Last year, Akbani won the bronze medal at ISWEEEP for a project titled "Disk stabilized emulsions" that was carried out in Cheng's lab.