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NWI Announces Student Research Awards from Spring 2024 IAB Meeting

NWI Student Awardees from Spring 2024 IAB Meeting

The Nonwovens Institute (NWI) is proud to announce the winners of its Student Awards from the Spring 2024 Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) meeting – Nishant Bhatta, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, NC State University (Best Technical); Anicah Smith O’Brien, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, NC State University (Best Presentation); and Anastasia Timofeeva, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, NC State University (Best Overall).  

“We are fortunate to have truly outstanding researchers engaged in NWI’s industry-selected fundamental nonwovens research program, and Nishant, Anicah and Anastasia, in partnership with their faculty advisors, have done impressive work as part of our research team,” said Behnam Pourdeyhimi, Ph.D., NWI’s executive director. “We offer our sincere congratulations to them for being recognized by our membership with NWI Student Awards at our recent Spring IAB meeting, and we look forward to seeing them grow in their research activities and careers going forward.”

The Student Awards are selected during NWI’s semi-annual IAB meetings based on presentations by NWI’s student researchers during the event. The presentations are evaluated for presentation style and technical merit by representatives from NWI’s member companies, which include leading organizations across the nonwovens value chain.

“Our students collaborate with academia, government and industry to conduct research that is relevant to real-world application scenarios,” said Tom Daugherty, NWI’s deputy director. “Through their presentations at the IAB meetings, NWI’s graduate student researchers have an opportunity to showcase their work among a wider audience of leading minds in the nonwovens industry. The students who are engaged in NWI’s program are advancing the fundamental understanding around topics of significant relevance to nonwovens, and those students who are recognized with awards at the IAB are receiving a strong vote of confidence from our membership. We are very proud of the work our student researchers are doing, and Nishant, Anicah and Anastasia are excellent examples worthy of this recognition.”  

Best Technical: Nishant Bhatta, “Flow-less Coalescence Filtration Experiment”

Nishant Bhatta presents during NWI's Industrial Advisory Board meeting.

Nishant is a Ph.D. candidate who, under the guidance Dr. Hooman Tafreshi and Dr. Behnam Pourdeyhimi, is engaged in an NWI research project focused on characterizing the performance of coalescing filters (nonwoven filters that capture liquid aerosols).

In contrast to solid-particle filtration, characterizing the performance of coalescing filters in terms of filter properties (e.g., fiber diameter, material contact angle, filter porosity, flow velocity, etc.) remains a formidable challenge, despite extensive research efforts spanning several decades. The intricate interplay between local saturation and local airflow in a partially saturated coalescing filter presents significant mathematical complexities in describing the fluid mechanics of such filters.

Nishant’s research project proposes a simplification strategy by replacing the pressure-driven flow field with a centrifugal force field to isolate the role of the fiber’s microstructure in promoting or preventing fluid flow. As part of this project, Nishant implemented the Pore Morphology Method (PMM) algorithm on MATLAB to simulate fluid intrusion on 3-D fibrous media. Nishant also developed a framework for coalescence filtration simulation coupling the Volume-of-Fluid (VOF) method (or the PMM) with the Discrete-Phase-Model (DPM) to study efficiency and pressure drop for a partially saturated virtual nonwoven filter.

Best Presentation: Anicah Smith O’Brien, “Effect of Surface Coatings on Biodegradability and Functional Properties of Model Pure and Blended Biopolymer Substrates”

Anicah Smith-O'Brien presents during NWI's Industrial Advisory Board meeting.

Anicah is a Ph.D. candidate, who, under the guidance Dr. Saad Khan and Dr. Morton Barlaz, is engaged in an NWI research project focused on developing a fundamental understanding of how surfactant type (anionic, cationic or nonionic) and blending effect both aerobic and anerobic biodegradability of polylactic acid (PLA), polycaprolactone (PCL), and polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) substrates. This research also aims to assess surfactant adsorption of such substrates and the subsequent impact on wettability.

Surface coatings are commonly applied to nonwoven products to modify their physical properties, such as hydrophilicity, which is particularly important for personal hygiene products. The nonwovens industry has a keen interest in utilizing biodegradable materials. However, achieving desired physical properties often requires blending different bio-based polymers. Despite this, there is a lack of fundamental understanding regarding how these factors influence biodegradability.

Anicah’s project aims to bridge this knowledge gap by systematically evaluating the mechanisms behind the biodegradability of specific polymer blends and coatings. Understanding how surface modifications and blending impact polymeric properties and biodegradability is critical for such biopolymers to be fully implemented in industry.

Best Overall: Anastasia Timofeeva, “Dynamic, In-situ Characterization of Failure Modes in Fiber Spinning”

Anastasia Timofeeva presents during NWI's Industrial Advisory Board meeting.

Anastasia is a Ph.D. candidate, who, under the guidance of Dr. Kara Peters and Dr. Mark Pankow, is engaged in an NWI research project focused on failure modes in fiber spinning.

During fiber spinning production, polymer fibers undergo flow induced crystallization that affects the final quality of the fibers and the nonwoven materials. It is important to monitor the fiber quality during production to understand the effects of the production process parameters on the onset of irregularities such as holes, surface roughness, surface striations and irregular stress distributions that could potentially lead to fiber or fabric failure. The ability to recognize these irregularities would reduce the downtime for production lines, as well as provide in-situ quantitative data that could be used for optimization of production process parameters.

As part of this project, Anastasia is developing a high-speed polarization imaging technique for in-situ defect detection in polymer fibers during fiber spinning production. Anastasia is exploring the use of high-speed polarized light imaging to measure internal stress fields and the orientation of polymer chains within the fibers as they are being produced. In the latest upgrade to her project, Anastasia has adopted a new system that allows for defects to be measured in a single shot. This system requires minimum-to-none of additional data processing as the previously developed motion tracking algorithm is no longer required.

By providing an understanding of why defects occur in fiber spinning, Anastasia’s research can help relate polymer properties to spinning conditions to reduce downtime and production costs.

With the Spring 2024 IAB, Nishant has officially completed his NWI research project and is anticipating graduation in December.

Anicah has presented her research at three IAB meeting so far and has been previously recognized with Student Awards at the Spring 2023 and Fall 2023 IAB meetings.

Anastasia, who has been previously recognized with Student Awards at the Fall 2022, Spring 2023 and Fall 2023 IAB meetings, will present her NWI research project for the final time at the Fall 2024 IAB.

Are you are interested in engaging with NWI as a graduate student researcher?

The Nonwovens Institute is a membership-based fundamental research institute serving leading companies/organizations across the nonwovens value chain, from raw material to end-use. NWI research aims to enable strategic R&D efforts by member companies who are seeking to forge next-generation fiber- and polymer-based materials and products. At the end of this value-added research pipeline are revolutionary and often life-enhancing products for both industrial and consumer markets. Research thrust areas are industry-selected and research results are considered proprietary to the Institute and its member companies.

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