Jul 03 2013

Engineering Student to Receive Astronaut Scholarship

Meghan Wilt in College of Textiles LabMeghan Wilt, a senior majoring in textile engineering and chemical and biomolecular engineering, will receive a $10,000 scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF) for the 2013–14 school year. Wilt is one of 28 students to receive the scholarship nationwide.

 

The $10,000 award is the nation’s largest merit-based monetary award given to undergraduate students studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics, according to the ASF. The foundation was established in 1984 by the Mercury Seven astronauts to help the United States continue leading the world in science and technology. Scholarship recipients must exhibit motivation, imagination and exceptional performance in their academic major. Wilt is NC State’s 23rd recipient of the scholarship, which was first awarded in 1986.

 

Wilt, a College of Textiles Centennial Scholar, has been working with Dr. Julie Willoughby since the summer after her freshman year on various research projects. “From touring other universities in high school, I got the impression that getting involved in research as an undergrad can be difficult,” Wilt said. “NC State stood out to me as a place where my possibilities for conducting independent research would be limitless.”

 

Wilt had the opportunity to attend the College of Engineering Open House her sophomore year at Chapel Hill High School, and she followed that up the next summer by attending the College of Textiles Polymer Day Camp. After her junior year she attended the Summer Textile Exploration Program, where she saw firsthand how students and faculty work together at NC State.

 

During Wilt’s freshman year, she quickly found out how she could become engaged in undergraduate research, and she sought opportunities in material development from renewable resources. Willoughby’s research on converting lignin, the second most abundant biopolymer on earth, into a high-value-added macromolecule was a perfect fit. Wilt’s research was kickstarted after being awarded the North Carolina American Chemical Society’s Howie James Undergraduate Research award in 2011. This award has enabled Wilt to combine the chemistries of silicon-containing polymers and silanes with lignocellulosic materials for the development of novel elastomers and fibers.

 

Wilt is a member of the Textile Engineering Society and is a tutor at the textile tutorial center. She is also in the University Honors Program and is the vice president of the NC State ballroom dance team. Last summer, after her sophomore year, she went to Germany and interned at RWTH Aachen University, where she worked on a research project to increase the uniformity of nonwovens made from renewable resources for applications in car seating. This summer she is headed to Baton Rouge, La., to work for Albemarle, a developer, manufacturer and marketer of complex chemicals and services.

 

Wilt is “simply amazing,” said Willoughby, who nominated her for the award. “She walked into my lab with little experience and quickly figured out how to be efficient and productive in a university research environment. Her creativity in solving the challenges that her research has revealed has been critical to the project’s success. The interdisciplinary research she is conducting has exposed her to three NC State colleges: the College of Textiles, the College of Engineering and the College of Natural Resources. The project has recently engaged the Center for Applied Energy Research at the University of Kentucky, so now her research is extending to the multi-institution level as well.”