Snehal Patil: Going above and beyond in research and service
Chemical engineering is a difficult program of study--easily one of the most demanding due to the field's interdisciplinary nature. And yet, in addition to the challenges of the program, many Ohio State Chemical Engineering students undertake voluntary service activities which benefit their peers, the department, and the community at large.
Balancing one's schedule in order to accommodate such activities is not easy, but doing so demonstrates wisdom because experiences outside the lab can help students learn better time management skills, gain alternate perspectives, and demonstrate leadership skills--things employers value.
Doctoral candidate Snehal Patil from Professor Umit Ozkan's lab was recently recognized not only for her top-notch research skills, but for her extensive service to the Chemical Engineering department and the greater community.
Patil received the Edward J. Ray Travel Award for Scholarship and Service, which will support her attendance at the November 2023 AIChE conference in Orlando, Florida. Patil will present two papers at the conference: "Hydrogenation of phenol in aqueous phase over organically modified silica support: Effect of basic site incorporation" and "Tunable Palladium Catalyst Using Organically Modified Silica as a Scaffold for Aqueous Phase Phenol Hydrogenation."
Meanwhile, more specifically in support of her research endeavors, Patil also received the American Institute of Chemical Engineers' (AIChE) Catalysis and Reaction Engineering (CRE) Travel Award to attend the same AIChE November meeting.
Patil's research focuses on investigating the use of tunable organosilica as a catalyst support for upgrading the lignocellulosic bio-oil components into value-added chemicals by using phenol as a model molecule to study the aqueous phase hydrogenation reaction.
Limited availability and environmental impacts of fossil sources have created a need for the development of sustainable technologies using renewable feedstocks for fulfilling the ever-growing demand for energy and chemicals. Lignocellulosic biomass as an alternative renewable source of energy and chemicals is gaining a lot of attention in the scientific community. Lignin, one of the three components of lignocellulosic biomass, is an aromatic polymer and a renewable source of aromatic compounds. Lignin can be decomposed using thermal treatments such as pyrolysis into phenols, cresols, catechol. In Patil's research, she and others in the lab use phenol as a model molecule for bio-oil to study its catalytic conversion to value added chemicals. They focus on a silica-based hybrid organic-inorganic material containing an aromatic bridging group that acts as a catalyst support. The aromatic content of the hybrid material can interact with the aromatic phenol and its derivatives present in the bio-oil via π- π stacking. Owing to the affinity of this hybrid material to phenolics, it can act as an excellent support for upgrading the lignin bio-oil to value added chemicals. Ozkan Group members study the effect of incorporating different functionalities and tuning the surface properties of the support on the catalytic activity for phenol hydrogenation.
In addition to her research program, Patil is a Certified Wellness Workshop Facilitator and since 2021 she has served as president of the Sky Engineering Club, which promotes the mental wellbeing of engineering students. Also since 2021, Patil has served on the department's Graduate Research Symposium (GRS) committee, which organizes and executes an annual day-long symposium featuring graduate student research projects. GRS is a large public event attended by industry leaders, members of the community, peers, and members of the department.
Within the Ozkan Lab, Patil has multiple roles: since 2022 she has served as a Safety Officer on the department's Chemical Hygiene Committee and this year she has also been the group's social chair and webmaster. In addition, she served on the Chemical Engineering Graduate Council (CEGC) for one year.
Patil's work even extends beyond the department -- in the greater Columbus community, she has taken part in service activities involving refugee students and homeless people.
By this point, you may be wondering: How and why does an engineering student do so much, when they are already involved in a rigorous program?
"It gives me tremendous joy and strength to take responsibility for the people around me," Patil explains. "When I make an effort to uplift the community, I feel a sense of belongingness and purpose. The different leadership roles and service activities I have been a part of improved my efficiency in managing time and team members. These roles also encouraged me to go above and beyond to make a difference whenever possible."