Summer as a Lab Rat

Colton Moran

Colton Moran,
Senior, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Athens, OH 17 September 2013 – This past summer I spent some of my time working here at Ohio University doing research under Dr.Sunggyu Lee. The SEAM (Sustainable Energy and Materials) lab was a great place to learn and for me was an amazing opportunity to become familiar with alternative energy methods.

I have to admit that at first I was overwhelmed by the pure volume of technology that I had no idea how to use. With time I began to understand the equipment I was working with and after the initial phase of getting to know where I was working, I was able to do research on some really neat projects.

The largest project I worked on was building a super-critical hydrogenation unit from the ground up. the project began when I was asked to help facilitate a customer’s need and based on Dr. Lee’s idea, we went with a hydrogenation process to try and accomplish the task. Since the process is at super-critical conditions for hydrogen (super-critical involves relatively high pressures and temperatures, depending on the material) I built the unit inside a 1/8″ steel cabinet. The main components I designed were a heat exchange, a reactor, safety pressure releases and a ventilation system. It took some time but It was a lot of fun to start from just an empty cabinet to what now looks like a highway of pipes and valves.

I am still working on the hydrogenation unit to this day and I plan on doing so throughout the Fall semester. So not only am I getting my academic education, I get the chance to learn some real life lessons. Just last week I was running pressure test and found out something quite interesting. I had a septum which allows for liquid injection or gas sampling without exposing the system to the surroundings.

The septum is not built to be able to withstand pressure and of course my reactor was under relatively high pressure. I had a back pressure regulator before the septum to reduce it to atmospheric pressure but I overlooked something very important. I have a valve right after the septum that switched the flow from a testing port to the vent.

Well, when I designed it, that made sense, but it turns out I have some things to learn about design. When the valve was turned–no matter how quickly–the pressure built up in the section of pipe with the septum and “BAM!”, like the sound of a cannon, the septum blew and shot across the lab. Needless to say it scared me quite nicely and now I have to go back and tweak my design. But that is what I love about research; you are constantly learning new lessons–lessons that will stick with you, at least in my opinion, much easier than a lecture would.

Overall I am glad I started research in the SEAM lab and who knows, it might just be what drives me to go to grad school.

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