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Sources: Audrey Polifka, apolifka@k-state.edu;
and Jennifer Anthony, 785-532-4321, anthonyj@k-state.edu
Pronouncer: Polifka is poe-lif-ka
Photo available. Contact media@k-state.edu or 785-532-6415.
Video available. Access at http://www.k-state.edu/media/webzine/research/index.html
News release prepared by: Kristin Hodges, 785-532-6415, khodges2@k-state.edu

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

K-STATE SOPHOMORE FROM QUINTER RESEARCHES CHEMICAL REACTIONS AND WORK HAS POSSIBILITIES THAT EXTEND BEYOND THE LAB

MANHATTAN -- The research of one Kansas State University student involves numerous chemical reactions and her experimental work has extensive possibilities beyond the laboratory.

Audrey Polifka, sophomore in chemical engineering from Quinter, is working on a project she began as a freshman with Jennifer Anthony, assistant professor of chemical engineering at K-State. Polifka's research Audrey Polifka head shotinvolves the synthesis – which forms new materials by combining chemical elements – of zeolitic materials and liquids composed of ions.

 

Polifka is working with zeolites -- minerals used as adsorbents -- that have nanometer-sized pores. Anthony said these materials have a wide range of chemical compositions and numerous applications in chemical separation and catalysis, which is the process of speeding up chemical reactions. Examples of such applications include water softening, wastewater treatment and odor control.

"Audrey has been working on synthesizing new materials, and thus far, she has developed several promising materials that we are working to characterize," Anthony said. "The synthesis of a new zeolitic structure is in itself a noteworthy accomplishment."

Anthony said potential applications for the types of materials Polifka is creating include use in gas and water purification and coatings for sensors and other detection devices.

"Audrey is naturally gifted in conducting scientific research," Anthony said. "In fact, it is quite easy to forget that she is not a Ph.D. student, but an undergraduate researcher."

Polifka said part of her project is looking at the environmental advantages of synthesizing with ionic liquids.

Audrey Polifka in the laboratory filtering materials"We think ionic liquids can be a lot greener than using water for synthesis," she said. "They don't release vapors, so the toxins aren't going to be released as they would when you're synthesizing with water."

Polifka presented the research project in October 2008 at an American Chemical Society regional conference in Lincoln, Neb. She said presenting the research and the current results helped her get feedback from others in the chemical engineering field.

She plans to continue doing research while at K-State and said her project has given her much experience. Within her lab group, Polifka also has had experience making research presentations and keeping a lab book.

"It's been my first chance to get into the lab and get hands-on experience, which has been great," she said.

Polifka's interest in science started in high school thanks to an eccentric chemistry teacher who also introduced her to the field of chemical engineering. She liked that the subject area was challenging.

She said the College of Engineering at K-State has been both challenging and inviting.

"I like it because I come from a small town," she said. "I feel like the college is its own subgroup of the university and I can get to know everybody in my classes."

Polifka also is a member of the K-State women's rowing team. An athlete in high school, she participated in volleyball, basketball and track. She had never experienced rowing as a sport before coming to college.

"I wanted to do a sport in college," she said. "I could have done volleyball or basketball – just not at the Division I level. Academically I wanted to go to a Division I school, so rowing was an opportunity to do that and to challenge myself."

Polifka plans to pursue graduate studies in chemical engineering. She would like to have a research career and eventually use her economics minor to be involved with the business side of the chemical engineering field.

A 2007 graduate of Hays High School, she is the daughter of David Polifka, Quinter, and Diane Polifka, Hays.