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Prestigious scholarship helps UAB student prioritize environmental health and safety in plastic and materials research – News | #schoolsaftey


A materials engineering Ph.D. student was awarded a scholarship from the Society of Plastic Engineers to help fund research to better the environment.

University of Alabama at BirminghamPhoto Credit: Renjith Rajan Pillai materials engineering Ph.D. student Renjith Rajan Pillai was recently awarded the Society of Plastic Engineers Foundation Gulf Coast Hurricane Scholarship 2023. Shortly before receiving the GCH scholarship, Pillai was selected to be a fellow in the Alabama EPSCoR Graduate Research Scholars Program in association with the National Science Foundation. 

Having received his master’s degree from UAB in 2021 in materials engineering as well, the 29-year-old international student from India seeks to use the high-energy form plasma to modify materials along with his mentor, Vinoy Thomas, Ph.D, associate professor in the UAB School of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. This process is categorized as a green modification method because it does not result in chemical waste. 

Open to students who are residents of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi or Texas, the scholarship is awarded to those who seek a career in the plastics or polymer industry.

“I am currently working on plasma surface-engineered materials for environmental health and safety,” Pillai said.

Pillai, who is utilizing plasma in different applications, said, “Various projects in my work focus on the sensing and remediation of heavy metals, volatile organic components, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.”

Want to help shape the future with research? Start your UAB journey here.

Among this research, Pillai has been able to work with the UAB Superfund Research Center under the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine, whose work addresses environmental airborne pollution with heavy metals and its impact on respiratory health and environmental degradation.

Pillai serves as the president of the UAB student chapter of the Society of Plastic Engineers and was responsible for the reestablishment of the chapter. Pillai is a certified member of the Alabama Gamma Chapter of Alpha Sigma Mu. In the spring 2023 semester, Pillai was recognized with the Outstanding Graduate Student award from the Department of Material Science and Engineering. Pillai was also recognized with an Outstanding Presenter award from the Alabama Academy of Science at its 99th and 100th annual meetings.

Pillai plans to use these opportunities to continue to cultivate his research and thus one day impact the materials engineering field.





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