Kennesaw State recognizes Birla Carbon scholars

KENNESAW, Ga. | Aug 20, 2021

Birla Carbon symposium

Kennesaw State University senior Ethan Wagner’s research into a durable polymer that can conduct electricity won the top prize on Thursday at the Birla Carbon symposium, where the College of Science and Mathematics recognized its 11 Birla Carbon Scholars.

“The dedication of our Birla Carbon scholars is remarkable,” said Kojo Mensa-Wilmot, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics. “I’m inspired by our students’ tenacity to perform research in this difficult time. I am grateful to their very talented mentors who paved the way for our outstanding students.”

In the spring, the College of Science and Mathematics selected 11 students to each receive a $4,000 stipend to pursue their individual research interests during a unique 10-week summer program established by Birla Carbon. 

The 11 scholars were chosen based on the recommendations of College of Science and Mathematics faculty members, submission of an undergraduate research project abstract, and a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Recipients worked with their sponsoring faculty members on their proposed research projects in six different departments within CSM.

This year’s scholars are:

  • Julie Allsen, environmental science major, mentored by Sarah Guindre-Parker, assistant professor of biology
  • Chakayla Ashford, biology major, mentored by Anton Bryantsev, associate professor of developmental biology
  • Christopher Boon, mathematics major, mentored by Glenn Young, assistant professor of mathematics
  • Andrea Brenner, environmental science major, mentored by Bharat Baruah, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry
  • Datiel Dayani, biology major, mentored by Michelle Head, associate professor of chemistry education
  • Mia Jones, biochemistry major, mentored by Scott Nowak, associate professor of biology
  • Jaiden Outten, biochemistry major, mentored by Marina Koether, professor of chemistry
  • Christian Perez, physics major, mentored by David Joffe, associate professor of physics
  • Rebecca Senft, biology major, mentored by Matthew Weand, associate professor of organismal biology
  • Gavin Treadaway, biology major, mentored by Ramya Rajagopalan, assistant professor of cell biology
  • Ethan Wagner, chemistry major, mentored by Graham Collier, assistant professor of chemistry

Since 2014, funding provided by Birla Carbon, a worldwide chemical manufacturer, has allowed 83 Birla Carbon Scholars to participate in research opportunities. In 2019, Birla Carbon reaffirmed its pledge to the program by extending the agreement for another five years and adding $275,000 to the commitment. Terence Norman, human resources head Americas at Birla Carbon, said the company looks forward to this event every year to showcase young scientists.

“Today’s event symbolizes a comprehensive partnership with multiple entities involved — the dedication from 11 summer researchers who were supported by their families, KSU’s College of Science and Mathematics for providing the research platform, guidance and mentorship and Birla Carbon supporting the growth and development of tomorrow’s STEM leaders,” Norman said. “The commitment from each entity culminates into what we are witnessing today — a robust partnership that makes our community stronger.”

The Birla Carbon judges awarded Wagner, a chemistry major from Marietta, with the top prize. Working in the laboratory of assistant professor of chemistry Graham Collier, Wagner sought to create a durable, environmentally friendly and low-cost plastic-like substance made of a carbon base that can replace traditional copper or silver wires and can conduct electricity.

“Current industry polymers are very wasteful to make and they have highly toxic byproducts, but the polymer we’ve created requires fewer steps in manufacturing,” said Wagner, who plans to study for his doctorate in polymer chemistry after graduating next spring. “This work has interest from the solar and electronics industries, like for cell phone screens and solar energy panels.”

Along with the $4,000 stipend each scholar received, Wagner received an additional $2,000 in travel funds to present his research at the national or regional conference of his choice. 

– Dave Shelles

Photos by Jason Getz


About Birla Carbon

Birla Carbon is the world’s largest producer and supplier of carbon black additives, which are used to make everything from tires to plastics, from paints to electronics. A flagship business of the $45 billion Aditya Birla Group, the multinational conglomerate based in Taloja, India, Birla Carbon’s Technology Laboratories are located in Marietta and Taloja, India.

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