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Engineering to benefit humanity: Student looks to developing nations

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Tak-Sing Wong and Birgitt Boschitsch collaborate in the lab.

Birgitt Boschitsch has earned many titles – mechanical engineer, Penn State doctoral student, bourgeoning entrepreneur. But no matter how she’s using her talents, she always remembers why she pursued engineering.

“Day-to-day, I get to work on interesting technological problems,” she said. “But there’s also a long-term societal impact that engineers can have, which is ultimately solving problems for people around the world.”

Through her research, Boschitsch hopes that she can make an impact far beyond the walls of the Penn State Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering (MNE).

“Creating something that can address a global need or be implemented in a developing country, that is what really excites me,” she said. Having received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, she is already tenaciously pursuing this goal.

Her research, housed in the Wong Laboratory for Nature Inspired Engineering, has been focused on creating innovative membranes. “Conventional membranes allow small particles to pass through and large ones to stay behind, like a sieve,” she said. “But I’ve been developing a membrane that does the opposite.”

“It’s a reverse filter,” she explained. “Anytime you want to have small particles retained and large objects pass through, that’s a solution that we don’t have right now.”

Her adviser, Tak-Sing Wong, the Wormley Family Early Career Professor in MNE, said of her work, “It’s truly mind-blowing, and it will enable a number of applications that were previously unachievable using conventional filtration mechanisms.”