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Student research could impact the aerospace technology and cancer treatment options
Dec 22, 2011 | 427 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dr. Paul Withey, left, supervised Tamika Thomas, Kena Senegal and Sarena Senegal in nanotube research. At right is Tanya Senegal, Kena and Serena’s mother.
Dr. Paul Withey, left, supervised Tamika Thomas, Kena Senegal and Sarena Senegal in nanotube research. At right is Tanya Senegal, Kena and Serena’s mother.
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Two Northwestern State University chemistry students are engaged in research that could have implications in the aerospace industry and in cancer treatment. Twins Kena and Sarena Senegal of Lake Charles spent the last two summers studying the behavior of nanocomposites at a Rice University laboratory. Nanocomposites are a component of carbon nanotubes (CNTs), which, though tiny, but have high tensile strength and can be used to improve the strength and flexibility of other materials.

The research opportunity was made possible through the Minority Leaders Program facilitated by Clarkson Aerospace Corp. and the Air Force Research Laboratory. Their terms in research included hands-on experiments and data collections under the supervision of Dr. Paul Withey, former head of Northwestern State’s chemistry and physics department, using state-of-the-art equipment available to them in the lab of Dr. Bruce Weisman, a Rice University professor of chemistry. Withey is now an associate professor of physics at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and supervised the students’ research. Tamika Thomas, a former Northwestern State physics major, also participated.

Kena and Sarena Senegal are chemistry majors with concentrations in biochemistry who plan to graduate in December 2012. Their research is applicable in strengthening the components used to construct planes and other aircraft, as well as treating cancer.

“Singled walled carbon nanotube, or SWCT, composites have exceptional strength,” Kena Senegal explained. “In order to explore the strengths of SWCTs they must first be separated and aligned. Future research involves testing the strength of lab test materials to determine if they can be applicable in Air Force materials.”

“Within our work we generally determined that CNTs fluoresce and strengthen the nanocomposite material,” Sarena Senegal added. “To go more into detail of how this work can be applied, I once came across an article which utilized the fluoresce properties of CNTs in medicine in which drug delivery with CNTs were used for cancer treatment. In addition, the exceptional structural properties of the CNTs can serve as a benefit to the Air Force when they consider creating stronger and possibly lighter weight materials for safety purposes.”

The twins plan to continue their research, but hope to focus more on the biomedical aspect.

“Ever since our involvement with the MLP we’ve actually started to really enjoy scientific research which is why we’ve now considered persuing a dual degree at one of the Medical Science Training Program institutes,” Sarena Senegal said.

Thomas, the former Northwestern State student who is now pursuing a degree in physics at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, worked alongside the Senegal twins.

“We found throughout the course of our research that SWCNTs enhance the strength of certain materials when they are randomly dispersed,” said Thomas, who plans to pursue a graduate degree in medical physics. “I would love to continue research with carbon nanotubes but more specifically in cancer research.”

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