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Holly McIlwee: A Colorful Background

Holly McIlwee

B.S./M.S. student Holly McIlwee started her research experience early in her student career in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Drexel University. In her pre-junior year, she began working in Dr. Caroline Schauer’s lab on colored thin films, something that she found very interesting and unlike any science she had studied before.

"In the Natural Polymers and Photonics lab, we are working to fine tune structural color for applications such as a novel camouflage or an optics based sensor," Holly says. "We primarily use chitosan, an abundant, nontoxic, and biodegradable biopolymer which is found in nature in crab shells and fungus."

In the Natural Polymers and Photonics lab, Holly uses chitosan, an abundant, nontoxic, and biodegradable biopolymer to fine tune structural color for applications such as an optics based sensor. Chitosan makes the brilliant color found in butterflies, crab shells, and other natural materials. Holly, along with other researchers in Dr. Schauer’s lab, is working to replicate the stacked thin film layers of chitosan and air that make the color, and to produce tunable color. The resulting product, a biopolymer chitosan, would have the potential to replace synthetic polymers used for food packaging and medical applications.

"Sharing ideas and getting advice from other graduate students in the lab during this experience has really made me excited about grad school and the project I will be working on then. I have worked in this lab for 3 years and will have a wealth of experience when I graduate," Holly says.

In addition to studying and spending time in the lab, Holly was also a member of Drexel’s crew team and spends her free time biking around Philadelphia, running, and doing arts and crafts. After graduating in June 2008, Holly will be funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)-International Research and Education in Engineering (IREE) program to conduct research in France over the summer. Following that, she will attend Harvard University on an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship to receive her Ph.D. in bioengineering.




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Last updated Tuesday, June 10, 2008