“Iowa makes a lot of corn and soybean oil! These oils are useful for many applications, but they cannot be applied in many fields of industry because their main components cannot be separated. Nimesh has discovered a way to separate them using membranes which is very interesting because membrane separations can be applied at large, industrial scale.” -Ned Bowden, professor, chemistry
Hometown: Colombo, Sri Lanka
Faculty mentor/advisor: Ned Bowden, PhD, professor, chemistry, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
What is your degree program and expected graduation date? Chemistry PhD, spring 2023
Please describe your research: We are developing membranes that can separate key fatty acids methyl esters (FAMEs) in vegetable oils to selectively extract one FAME from a mixture. (The physical characteristics of FAMEs more closely resemble fossil diesel fuels than vegetable oils.) This will help produce streams of FAMEs enriched in one from the complex mixture of FAMEs that is difficult to separate by traditional purification techniques.
In simple terms, why does this research matter? My membranes are the first to complete these challenging separations. I envision that these membranes can be used to extract high value FAMEs from a mixture of FAMEs for applications in cold weather and hot weather where different mixtures are required. These membrane separations can be completed at room temperature, using modest amounts of pressure, are inexpensive, and can be scaled to industrial scales. More importantly this work opens new markets for biodiesel producers and opens up new job opportunities locally.
How soon after starting at the University of Iowa were you able to participate in research? After my first year.
How has being involved in research made you more successful at the University of Iowa? I had numerous opportunities to present my research works at different national level conferences in the U.S. This allows me to present my most up-to-date findings and receive feedback from the experts in the field. Research experience from the University of Iowa helps me to improve my critical thinking ability and helps to develop required personality for future academic and industrial platform.
What are your career goals and/or plans after graduation? To become a principal scientist in the biodiesel industry in the next four years. To achieve this, I believe that I need to develop strong leadership, communication, interpersonal, and teamwork skills.
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