By: Taylor Caron
UConn Chemical Engineering graduate student Jian Ren has received two national awards for her innovative research on water purification. The North American Membrane Society (NAMS) awarded her a Student Fellowship Award this past May, and she will receive a Graduate Student Research Award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineering (AIChE) at the annual meeting this upcoming November.
Both awards are highly selective as the NAMS Fellowship is given to only three students annually, and the AIChE Research Award to only six or eight. Ren said she was very honored to receive the awards, especially the NAMS Fellowship.
“The NAMS Student Fellowship is the highest student award to receive from NAMS, so I am really honored and grateful to receive this recognition in the field of membrane science and technology,” she said. “This would not be possible without the continuous support from my advisor and colleagues.”
Ren has been working with Professor Jeffrey McCutcheon on an energy efficient and cost effective method of purifying water. Conventionally, a process called reverse osmosis is used in seawater desalination and wastewater treatment. Ren’s work uses a process called forward osmosis which utilizes natural osmotic tendency at a lower cost to separate water from contaminants. Her research focuses on developing innovative hollow fiber membranes (HFM) for this process. The HFM is a semi-permeable membrane which requires much less energy than the standard membrane used in reverse osmosis.
These membranes have a straw-like shape and can achieve a high packing density, Ren said. Not only is it more effective while enabling small footprint system, but it is easier to manufacture at a large scale
“The HFM is also self-supported, which makes it easy to prototype in academic labs and manufacture in industry,” she said.
Part of what makes Ren’s research so impressive is that she built her own hollow fiber spinning system at UConn from scratch.
“Professor McCutcheon encouraged me to build the system, and I accepted because I like to challenge myself. Unless you challenge yourself you never know you had such potential,” Ren said.