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Auburn University junior recipient of German Academic Exchange Service Scholarship

Published: April 06, 2022
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Maggie Nelson of Birmingham is Auburn University’s newest recipient of the German Academic Exchange Service Scholarship.

Nelson, a junior majoring in aerospace engineering in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and minoring in sustainability studies and philosophy in the College of Liberal Arts, will attend Leibniz Institute of Surface Engineering in Leipzig, Germany.

The scholarship is through the DAAD Rise program, an acronym for Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst, or German Academic Exchange Service, Research Internships in Science and Engineering. It is Germany’s premier scholarship program, and it awards competitive merit-based grants for use toward study and/or research in Germany at any of the accredited German institutions of higher education.

DAAD Rise annually offers approximately 300 grants to undergraduate students from North America, Great Britain and Ireland.

While in Leipzig, Nelson will research anti-biofouling properties of new hybrid membrane systems. According to Nelson, porous polymer membranes are commonly used for filtration of drinking water, wastewater treatment, medicine, food and more.

A severe problem in all areas is membrane fouling, or the clogging of the pore structure with substances. The required cleaning of a fouled membrane is associated with the use and disposal of aggressive and environmentally harmful chemicals. Over time, these chemicals will actually break down the membrane materials, leading to the considerable consumption of resources.

The aim of Nelson’s research internship is to investigate active polymer-based membranes regarding their biofouling properties. By immobilizing enzymes and photocatalysts/photosensitizers on the membrane surface, these systems are able to degrade absorbate or substances in the surrounding medium and thus generate a self-cleaning surface. The biofouling and self-cleaning properties of the polymer membranes will be investigated using a solution of microalgae, chlorella vulgaris.

“I am so honored and humbled to have been offered an internship through DAAD Rise,” Nelson said. “With the unexpected rise of COVID in the spring of my freshman year, my goal of studying or interning abroad was deterred. I assumed with the rigorous curriculum and expectations within engineering, that I would not have time to study abroad and gain valuable professional experiences.

“However, this program has offered me an opportunity to fulfill both by gaining professional research experience abroad. I am beyond excited to experience Europe for the first time and learn more about materials engineering research that I plan to pursue as part of my future studies and work.”

Nelson, a member of the Honors College at Auburn, has received a number of accolades during her time on campus, including a recent Barry Goldwater Scholarship nomination. She also was selected as an Astronaut Scholar through the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, as an Undergraduate Research Fellow, as a Center for Polymers and Advanced Composites Research Fellow and as an MIT Research Intern.

“This incredible accomplishment is a testament to Maggie’s years of hard work and dedication to her scholarly pursuits,” said Tiffany Sippial, director of Auburn’s Honors College. “We celebrate this dedication and know that Maggie will use this opportunity to advance her research in ways that serve the greater good.”

Nelson attributes the amazing faculty at Auburn for her success.

“Dr. Russell Mailen and Dr. Soledad Peresin are constantly supporting my pursuits in research and are excited to help me expand my experiences to become the best researcher I can be,” Nelson said. “They have taught me that making mistakes is okay and that the important aspect of research is to continue moving forward.

“I would also like to thank my parents for supporting my decision to pursue this opportunity into the fall. It is a tremendous opportunity to have this international research presented. Adjusting my academic calendar is allowing me to take full advantage of this internship.”

Alex Sauer, coordinator for scholarship and research with the Honors College, expects many accomplishments from Nelson in the future.

“I am so proud of Maggie for getting accepted to this transformative and highly competitive internship program,” Sauer said. “She is already something of a rock star in her field as a junior, and I’m confident that she will only continue to amaze us as she moves forward with her career in research.”

More information on this award or other national prestigious scholarships at Auburn is available by contacting Sauer at ras0046@auburn.edu.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.

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