Pittsburg High School incoming senior Emily McGown is spending her summer days doing science research in labs at Pittsburg State University.
It’s not because the swimming pool and movie theatre are closed and she has nothing better to do — it’s because she’s interested in helping scientists figuring out how to use plastics in renewable, environmentally-friendly ways.
And, it’s because she is considering pursuing a college degree and a future career in plastics engineering technology or a related field.
"Doing research now will not just help prepare her for that career, it could help her land internships and scholarships in college," said Jeanne Norton, an associate professor in Plastics Engineering Technology who is mentoring McGown in the Kansas Technology Center and the Kansas Polymer Research Center at PSU.
McGown isn’t alone in her pursuit; incoming Pittsburg High School seniors Caleb Worsley and Joseph Lee also are doing science research this summer through the PSU Polymer Chemistry Department with Associate Professor Santimukul Santra as their mentor.
Both projects have something in common: they play a role in the advancement of medicine.
McGown, alongside PSU incoming senior Caleb Jones of Raymore, Missouri, is working on the extrusion of environmentally friendly 3D printer filament — filament that can be used in the creation of such products as respirators used in hospitals, and in short production runs for replacement parts for machines.
"They’re using pellets that are environmentally friendly, biodegradable plastic, which can be derived from corn, bacteria, and other renewable sources," Norton said. "They’re learning how to create a consistent filament in a cost-efficient way using an extrusion line set up by seniors in our program a few years ago."
Worsley and Lee, alongside PSU graduate students Truptiben Patel and Raghunath Narayanam, are researching nanomedicines for cancer treatment by using polymers as drug delivery systems.
"Our first step is to gain knowledge by reading scholarly articles and simultaneously exploring hands-on experiments on nanotechnology in the laboratory. I’ll be synthesizing polymer-based drug delivery systems for the targeted imaging and treatment of cancer," Worsley said.
Lee will be working on the fabrication of polymer-based nanosensors for the detection of food-borne pathogens like E. coli.
Both are interested in careers related to health — Lee in biochemistry, and Worsley in perhaps prosthetic engineering or physical therapy.
All three PHS students credit their teachers, Sally Ricker and Mary Packard, with encouraging them to apply for the internships.
"It’s a great opportunity, because I’m gaining a new perspective I wouldn’t get otherwise," McGown said.