CEC Students receive awards at poster competitions at 2021 AIChE national conference

Four CEC students recently received awards in the poster competitions at the 2021 American Institute for Chemical Engineers (AIChE) national conference. Undergraduate students Jessica Flower, Fiona Kanis, and Maddy McKinney and graduate student Abhishek Sen entered a poster competition at the conference and each won an award for their work, each being in a research lab with Dr. Andrew Jones.

This competition was a large poster session with hundreds of posters in all disciplines of Chemical Engineering. The posters were judged in groups of 10-15 posters in similar topical areas. All three of the undergraduates were in a Food, Pharmaceuticals, and Bioengineering topical area, but were placed in separate groups. Kanis and Flower won 3rd place in their respective groups, while McKinney won 2nd place.

Flower is a junior majoring in Biomedical Engineering and minoring in Mechanical Engineering and was able to have her own project to present at the competition because she was awarded a competitive 9-week summer research opportunity. This allowed her to dedicate many hours in the lab and make new discoveries about the de novo biosynthesis of psilocybin in an E. coli host. In the months leading up to the competition, she compiled all the data that she gathered over the summer into an organized poster and speech presentation.

“Throughout my time in the Jones lab, I have had many opportunities to present my findings and work on my public speaking skills, which ultimately prepared me for my poster presentation at AIChE,” Flowers said when asked about how Jones prepared her for the big event.

Flower was shocked to hear the announcer call her name due to many names from big schools being called prior to hers. She is happy she was able to represent Miami and is proud of her and her lab member’s accomplishments at the competition.

Flowers has a manuscript in preparation to be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal in Spring 2022 alongside the submission of her patent application, which she is very excited about.

Kanis is also a junior majoring in Biomedical Engineering and has a minor in Humanitarian Engineering.

Kanis did a 2 hour poster session where anyone at the conference could walk around and ask about her poster. Judges were walking around and she had to give a 3-5 minute presentation of the whole poster to them. She also talked to people who seemed interested, receiving a growing crowd of interested people toward the middle-end of the session. Kanis tried to treat the judges like anyone else who she had talked to, gave them an overview of her project and answered any questions they had.

At first, Kanis wasn’t expecting to win anything, and after hearing Maddy and Jessica’s names, she was super excited for them. She heard her name after hearing theirs and was really proud of all three of them for representing Miami and getting recognition for their work.

Miami’s CEC is really supportive of it’s students, so Kanis was relieved to see how understanding her professors were for the classes she had missed while at the conference. 

“I’m very proud of the work my lab does and the other members of the lab are always willing to help and support me in any way they can. I’m very happy to have been given the opportunities I have so far and I can’t wait to see where my senior year in the lab takes me,” Flower added in support of Jones and her lab members.

McKinney is a senior and will be getting her bachelors in Biomedical Engineering this spring and is currently in the combined MS/BS program to get her Masters in Chemical and Biological engineering. McKinney is also a graduate assistant for classes in the CPB department and serves as a mentor to another member of the Jones Lab. She is also active in SWE and Greek life in the Delta Delta Delta sorority. 

McKinney presented to multiple judges on a poster describing her thesis project, "Screening of Norbaeocystin Methyltransferase Variants enables enhanced Psilocybin and Baeocystin Production in E. coli." She was very proud of the aesthetics of her poster and believes that it is what helped her stand out in the competition.

“Dr. Jones and the research we did prepared me immensely. Not only do I have my thesis project because of him but I was prepared for the questions I was asked by people who knew the field as well as I do. The faculty in the CEC department is amazing, both as educators and collaborators,” McKinney said when asked about how the CEC helped prepare her.

McKinney was so proud to add to her collection of awards and was glad her nerves didn’t get in the way of her presentation. She recommends that freshmen and sophomores find research opportunities through Miami’s research program, which she is grateful for because of how it shaped her experience at the university.

Sen is a first year PhD student in the CMSB program who competed in the graduate student poster session on Bioengineering. This is a smaller topical poster session with about 75 posters.

This is a very competitive competition, and although it was his first poster presentation, Sen's presentation was selected as one of the top 3 posters. He was awarded a $500 top prize, sponsored by the Biochemical Engineering Journal.

“This was my first poster presentation and I gave my best attempt. It feels very encouraging to be awarded,” Sen said when asked about his reaction to winning.

Jones checked in with each of the four student’s projects weekly, giving them guidance on project direction, experimental design, and data analysis. He is proud of his students for the work they put into their projects and was excited to see them be recognized for their hard work.

By Gabby Benedict, CEC Reporter