UMass Amherst Rising Researcher Program Chooses ChE’s Taras Nagornyy for its Fall 2023 Cohort
A few years back, Taras Nagornyy arrived in the United States from Russia and began immersing himself in a new environment at MassBay Community College. While pursuing his studies there, he simultaneously worked at a local Starbucks store as a barista, occasionally taking the role as the store's technical troubleshooter. Now, Nagornyy is being lionized for his expertise at a whole new level of troubleshooting, having been selected as one of the six UMass Amherst Rising Researchers for the fall of 2023 because of his sophisticated research to minimize the release of harmful gases from diesel engines. The senior Chemical Engineering (ChE) major works in the labs of ChE Professors Wei Fan and Sarah Perry on various research efforts that Nagornyy hopes can “be applied to solve real-world problems.” See Research Aimed at Greener Transportation Solutions.
The UMass Amherst Rising Researcher Program recognizes undergraduate students who excel in research, challenge their intellect, and exercise exceptional creativity.
Nagornyy’s predisposition towards problem-solving is the major catalyst for his research on greener transportation solutions, his additional ChE research projects, and his entire chemical engineering education.
As Nagornyy says, “I first encountered the world of chemistry in high school in Russia. After moving to the United States, I took a job at Starbucks while also attending classes at MassBay Community College. At Starbucks, the satisfaction I found in troubleshooting issues and solving problems earned me the nickname ‘Store Mechanic.’”
According to Nagornyy, “The significance of education was clear to me, leading me to transfer to UMass Amherst and choose chemical engineering as my major. Like other engineering types, chemical engineering revolves around solving problems, and I was attracted to its distinctive blend of engineering and natural science. The major’s versatility also appealed to me, as it allows for exploration across fields such as chemistry, material science, biochemistry, mathematics, and coding, enabling us to combine fundamental concepts to address real-life challenges.”
Nagornyy has been engaged in research in Fan’s lab for more than two years. “Our focus is on addressing harmful nitrogen-oxide emissions from diesel engines commonly found in trucks, trains, ships, and military vehicles,” explains Nagornyy. “Our approach involves using a catalyst known as Si-LTA zeolite to convert the detrimental nitrogen-oxide gases into safe-to-breathe nitrogen gas.”
“However,” as Nagornyy points out one fundamental issue, “the industrial preparation of this catalyst involves using hydrofluoric acid, a substance known for its extreme danger and toxicity (it can easily dissolve bones if it contacts the skin).”
In his research, Nagornyy is exploring the potential to use much-less-dangerous ammonium fluoride as a substitute for hydrofluoric acid. As Nagornyy says, “Our findings indicate that not only can ammonium fluoride be used to synthesize the catalyst, but it also significantly expedites the synthesis process. We are currently preparing a paper to share these findings in an academic journal.”
But Nagornyy’s breadth of chemical-engineering research goes beyond his efforts to reduce nitrogen-oxide emissions.
“After joining Professor Perry's lab in fall 2023,” says Nagornyy, “I embarked on a project focused on encapsulating proteins with polymers. This innovative approach aims to enhance protein stability used for vaccinations, potentially eliminating the need for refrigeration during storage and transportation.”
Nagornyy’s philosophy of engineering might well be summed up by his statement: “As an engineer, it's particularly rewarding to know that the research isn't just theoretical; it's meant to be applied to solve real-world problems.”
For example, as Nagornyy observes, “The work conducted in Professor Fan's lab contributes to global efforts to reduce harmful gases in the atmosphere. This research has the potential to contribute to improving quality of life by decreasing acid rain and enhancing air quality, particularly benefiting people with lung disease. The discovery of a safer and more-effective method for producing the catalyst not only minimizes risks for chemical-industry workers but also enhances the feasibility of large-scale production of the catalyst.”
Nagornyy’s work in Perry's lab is yet more proof of his problem-solving convictions. As he says, “Our research has implications for making the delivery of vaccines more accessible, especially in developing countries. By increasing the stability of proteins in vaccines through polymer encapsulation, we aim to eliminate the need for costly refrigeration….”
As Nagornyy concludes, “It's the connection between theory and application that keeps me engaged and excited in the research process.” That same process also enables him to perceive the less-than-apparent link between tinkering with machines at Starbucks and solving large-as-life problems with chemical engineering. (December 2023)