Pictured above – Shafieh Karami pictured at the national annual meeting competition of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AlChE).

Karami traveled to the annual meeting of the AIChE in Phoenix

Cookeville – Shafieh Karami, a doctoral student of chemical engineering at Tennessee Tech (Tech), has placed second in the national annual meeting competition through the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). Her award is in the category of 2022 Environmental Division Poster Session, which recognizes the best original papers based on the results of research related to the environment.

“It is very impressive that a first-year doctoral student has received this national distinction,” said Pedro Arce, Tech professor of chemical engineering and university distinguished faculty fellow. “The AIChE is the premiere national division dedicated to Shafieh’s areas of research and it’s extremely competitive, as the most active programs within the AIChE participate in the event.”

Karami traveled to the annual meeting of the AIChE in Phoenix, Arizona to take part in the event that brings together researchers, engineers and industry professionals to learn from each other. She presented her research on microplastics in water treatment plants, focusing on a case study on a treatment plant in western Iran. Microplastics, plastic particles that measure five millimeters or less, can come from places such as the breaking down of larger plastic pieces, from microbeads in personal care products and synthetic clothing fibers.

When they find their way into water, the soil and the air, they can cause serious health issues for people and animals.

“Large quantities of microplastics are thought to be globally discharged to the freshwater environments through wastewater treatment plants,” Karami said. “As the information available related to sources of contamination is limited, this study focuses on understanding the role of wastewater effluent and sludge from a municipal wastewater treatment plant as potential pathways for microplastics input into both aquatic and agriculture-based environments.”

According to Arce, Karami’s poster is an excellent building block for her doctoral research program, as it can be replicated in other wastewater treatment plants such as the one located in Cookeville. He believes her doctoral research project aligns well with the department’s Environmental Catalysis Laboratory that specializes in advanced oxidation processes.

It is also a part of their grant from the National Science Foundation and the Foundation’s Research Traineeship Program for food, energy and water nexus research.

“It is encouraging that the national Environmental Division of Chemical Engineering has recognized her research,” Arce added.

Karami said she wanted to thank her professors and mentors who have helped her along the way, including Arce; Bahman Ghorashi, professor of chemical engineering; Robby Sanders, interim chair of Tech’s chemical engineering department, as well as the entire chemical engineering department itself. She also wants to thank those responsible for helping her to secure funding for her attendance at the conference, including The Chemical Engineering Graduate Research Association at Tech, the Student Monies Allocation Committee, and the Office of Research at Tech, which sponsored the research.

She understands the recognition is a result of good supervision.

“This recognition is a direct result of the supervision of my brilliant advisor Dr. Pedro Arce, a professor of chemical engineering in the chemical engineering department,” Karami said. “I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to be a member of his group and learn from him and the rest of the team here at Tennessee Tech. I believe Dr. Arce’s mentorship has been critical in helping me achieve this recognition and I am deeply thankful for his untiring dedication and support throughout my time at Tennessee Tech from day one.”

Sanders said it is exciting to see Tech’s Doctoral students honored.

“Many congratulations to Shafieh who joins other previous doctoral students from our program who have received recognition for their outstanding contributions,” said Sanders. “The list includes graduates working at national labs, the research division of leading companies, and as faculty and administrators in chemical engineering departments within the USA and abroad. It is exciting that our doctoral students continue to be recognized for their contributions that correlate with the motivating, collaborative and welcoming learning environment that our department strives to create.”

Karami doesn’t know what direction life will take her after gaining her doctorate, but she is eager to continue her learning and see what doors open for her along the way.

“I believe that earning a Ph.D. degree should not be considered as the end of the journey,” she said. “Instead, it should be viewed as a steppingstone to new and greater opportunities. With a Ph.D. degree in hand, I am confident that I will be equipped with the necessary knowledge, skills and expertise to tackle new challenges and make meaningful contributions to my field. Whether it is through academia or industry, I am eager to continue learning and growing as a professional.”

Photo courtesy of Tennessee Tech.

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