Clean Coal Research

Name: Bryan Gemler

Type of Project: Undergraduate Research

My STEP project was undergraduate research in Dr. Fan’s lab at Ohio State. In Dr. Fan’s lab, I improved carbon dioxide removal in coal waste streams by optimizing the injection of Calcium into the process. Calcium acts as a Carbon Dioxide capture agent and purifies the stream in an economically and environmentally friendly way.

I learned that I want to go to graduate school to pursue a PhD in chemical engineering from this experience. This is because my view on the engineering industry changed — the professional connections I learned during my time in research interacting with partner companies revealed to me that in order to pursue an upper level position at an engineering firm I have to have a doctorate degree. Additionally, going into research I was dreading the prospect of spending 4-5 years of my life in an academic lab. Through the mentorship of my graduate student, I learned that there is a lot to learn in crafting and pursuing a thesis and developing experimental design work.

During the STEP project, I had several experiences that added to my change in future plans. Conducting experiments taught me about carrying out pilot scale experiments that are used in industry. It was an unbelievable experience to work with large columns that are taller than me. Further, learning how to set up the columns and gather the output data results was an awesome experience and gave me a passion for working with my hands/being active in whatever future job I hold.

I think that the biggest growth area during my time in research as when my graduate student gave me the opportunity to design and execute my own small-scale experiment. There was a need to determine the efficiency of our carbon dioxide capture on different types of coal — there are as many different types of coal just as there are types of ice cream. With coal, however, those types could be grouped and characterized into different groups depending on similar water content properties. The small scale experiment was to conduct all of the tests that we had formulated/run for the main type of coal on two different types – one with a higher water content, one with a lower. When I conducted these experiments with minimal supervision I had full autonomy to interpret the results and send my graduate student a report summary of what the conclusions were.

One skill that I picked up during my time in the STEP undergraduate research was data analysis. Statistics was one of my favorite classes during high school, but since graduating I haven’t been able to practice it. One of the biggest aspects of my research was converting all of the output data points into a usable. The statistical analysis skills that I learned translated towards all of my other school work and company work as well as made me excited to pursue future research.

This opportunity from STEP directly impacted me as a college student. For one, I am now motivated to pursue graduate school, something that I had previously dismissed. I think that my outlook on the rest of my college classes has also changed – learning for the sake of learning actually means something now. I think that this change in future plans regarding graduate school will change the rest of my career.