PhD Student Emily Herbert Receives Fulbright

Emily Herbert

Drexel Materials PhD student Emily Herbert (BS ’19, advisor: Caroline Schauer) has received a 2023 U.S. Fulbright Student Award for her proposed project, “Scaling Up Production of Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs).” As a Fulbright student, she will work with Dr. Sean Scully at the University of Akureyri in Iceland to make PHAs greener and cheaper to produce.

PHAs are biopolymers that can serve as an alternative to petroleum-derived polymers. They have many of the same properties as non-biodegradable polymers and are more sustainable than synthetic polymers. However, due to the temperature requirements of the bacteria used to create PHAs, synthesizing is very expensive. 

Herbert will be working with Dr. Scully to investigate the use of heartier strains of bacteria, which would be able to withstand most temperatures and produce PHAs efficiently. They will also be finding greener alternatives to the chloroform typically used to extract bioplastics from bacteria. 

“The work I'll do in Iceland addresses some of the scale-up issues around synthesizing polyhydroxyhexanoates (PHAs)- including temperature constraints and the use of toxic solvents,” said Herbert. “The focus of my current work at Drexel is to improve the properties of PHB-HHx films, so I'm looking forward to working on synthesizing this exciting class of polymers!”

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program expands perspectives through academic and professional advancement and cross-cultural dialogue. This fellowship provides a stipend for room and board in the host country, 12 months of non-competitive eligibility status within the federal government, and more.