Alisa Owens ’14 Wins Halpin Prize

Thanks to the generosity of Doris M. and Norman T. Halpin, the School of Engineering will again award seed funding and prize money to support one innovative and interdisciplinary senior capstone design project. Projects are awarded based on how well they demonstrate the power of interdisciplinary thought in engineering science and design. This year's winner of the Halpin Prize for Interdisciplinary Senior Capstone Project is Alisa Owens '14. She is advised by Professor Bob Hurt and has received guidance and input on her project from Yang Qiu, a graduate student in Professor Hurt's lab. She will receive a $750 student prize and a $2500 research fund to support the project.

A chemical and biochemical engineering concentrator, Owens has been involved in research in professor Hurt's lab since the fall of 2012. She is investigating the use of graphene oxide as a topical antioxidant. Owens is actively involved in the Brown AIChE (American Institute of Chemical Engineers) student chapter activities, and serves as its co-president. Elected to the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society as a junior, she serves as vice president for that group.

Her research is focused on investigating the antioxidation properties of carbon-based nanomaterials, in particular graphene oxide (GO). Most currently available synthetic antioxidants have limited applicability due to low stability under biological conditions. She believes that the resulting demand for new materials with high stability and high radical scavenging capacity could potentially be met using GO. So far, she has developed and performed several assays that test the ability of GO to scavenge free radicals in solution. In addition, she has tested the capacity of GO to protect fatty acids from oxidation, a process that causes extensive damage to living systems. Results have suggested potentially promising radical scavenging and antioxidation capacities of GO that support its candidacy for commercial applications. Next steps include further investigation of these properties under biological conditions, and ultimately proposing a mechanism for radical neutralization by GO.

Outside of engineering, Owens has been a science writer for The College Hill Independent and a staff writer for The Critical Review.

She is interested in biology and life sciences, and has taken advanced biology coursework in addition to working as a teaching assistant in the department, which is why she chose her current research project as it involves a medical application of chemical engineering.

With some of her research funds, she hopes to attend the Harvard National Collegiate Research Conference in January 2014.