Lisa Merkl
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From Diabetes to Roller Coasters, Student Research Recognized at UH ContestThree scholars honored in superconductivity and related advanced materials symposium

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January 30, 2008-Houston-
Improving data storage, impacting human health and strengthening structures are on the agenda for three students at the University of Houston pursuing research in superconductivity and advanced materials.

Showcasing these three impressive endeavors and many others, the 34th Semiannual Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston (TcSUH) Student Symposium recently gave science and engineering students a forum to show off original research.

Nine competitors gave 15-minute research presentations, followed by a brief question-and-answer period. A faculty panel judged each presenter on originality and quality of research, quality of presentation and skillful use of visual aids. The three students who won top honors included two from the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and one from the Cullen College of Engineering. First prize was awarded to Rajit Chaudhury, a physics doctoral student; second prize went to Carmen Reznik, a doctoral student in chemistry; and third prize went to Christiana Chang, an undergraduate student in mechanical engineering. Rajit Chaudhury, whose TcSUH project leaders are UH Professor of Physics and T.L.L. Temple Chair of Science Paul C. W. Chu and Research Professor of Physics Bernd Lorenz, said that his winning presentation focuses on the magnetioelectric (or multiferroic) properties of bulk materials. In other words, his project has the potential to improve the fabrication of integrated circuitry used in data storage.

"We have observed several important results in different systems and these materials bear the potential for applications as memory devices," Chaudhury said.

Chaudhury received his masters in physics from the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai and his undergraduate degree in physics at Ramkrishna Mission Vidyamandira, Belvr, Kolkata.

"I have always been interested in science, specifically physics, as can be seen from my degrees," Chaudhury said. "Physics was always a wonder to me because of the intrigue and mysteries of nature itself."

Second-place winner Carmen Reznik's project leader is Christy Landes, assistant professor of chemistry. Her singular molecule studies may one day greatly impact human health. "I have always been intrigued by molecular level processes - particularly things like transport of chemical entities throughout the human body, and the changes in shapes of large molecules like proteins when they undergo reactions," Reznik said. "This probably started with the science fiction I began reading as a kid - books like "Fantastic Voyage" by Isaac Asimov and many others. From all of that speculative fiction, I developed the rather unscientific sense that a whole universe of important business conducts itself with a great deal of purpose, far beneath our perceptive capabilities. My project brings about the opportunity to inspect this intriguing universe and watch exactly how single molecules behave, using single molecule spectroscopy."

She said she has a more sophisticated motivation, as well.

"Subtle changes in both structure and shape of important molecules in our bodies impact human health tremendously. For instance, Alzheimer's, diabetes and Parkinson's diseases all have a common root - the misfolding of necessary and normally benign proteins in our bodies. Single-molecule studies will ultimately contribute a great deal of understanding to questions such as why large molecules like proteins sometimes begin to fold their long string-like structure into an incorrect shape."

Reznik obtained her B.S. in chemistry from the University of Houston and spent 10 years working in private industry. She is currently a second-year graduate student in the UH chemistry department and intends to continue her research at a research institution like UH.

Christiana Chang, an undergraduate student in mechanical engineering, conducts TcSUH research under the mentorship of Gangbing Song, associate professor of mechanical engineering. Chang said she has been interested in physics since elementary school. "I loved going on roller coasters, and in the midst of a ride I would be trying to figure out how all of this worked. I was always aware of the danger the roller coasters could pose, and I became interested in a way of keeping them safe for the public," Chang said. "From my research, we can see that there are currently feasible, cost-effective manufacturing techniques to produce nanocomposites with improved properties, as compared to current composite materials. Specifically, my research shows that carbon nanofiber sheet composites have markedly improved vibration-damping properties. This means not only will the material be more effective at resisting fatigue damage related to constant vibration, but also that things like acoustic vibration can be reduced. For example, imagine using these new nanocomposites on airplanes. I just flew back to Houston on an airplane, and the sound of the plane's vibrating shell as it passed through the air was just terrible. It gave me a headache. This problem could be attenuated by the new nanocomposites."

Chairs of the event were James Meen, research associate professor of chemistry, and Pei-Herng Hor, associate professor of physics, with welcome and introductions being made by Allan J. Jacobson, director of TcSUH, professor of chemistry and the Robert A. Welch Chair of Science. Judges of the competition were Landes, Physics Professor Wu-Pei Su and Irene Rusakova, a senior research scientist in physics.

TcSUH is internationally recognized for its multidisciplinary research and development of high-temperature superconductors (HTS), biomedical research and applications, and related nano and energy materials.

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