Montana State University

MSU student's research on bio-cement selected as one of the top posters in U.S.

April 25, 2013 -- By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

Neerja Zambare, left, a senior majoring in both chemical engineering and biological engineering from Pune, India, and her research mentors, Robin Gerlach, MSU professor of chemical and biological engineering, and Ellen Lauchnor, a post-doctoral researcher in Gerlach's lab in the Center for Biofilm Engineering. Gerlach and Lauchnor mentored Zambare in her work researching a bio-cement that effectively plugs cracks near wells and drilling sites that won Zambare selection into the country's top research fair for undergraduate research posters. MSU photo by Sepp Jannotta.   High-Res Available

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The innovative research of a Montana State University student who traveled half way around the globe to study engineering at MSU has taken her just a bit farther.

Neerja Zambare, a senior from Pune, India, majoring in both chemical engineering and biological engineering, was selected as one of the country's undergraduate researchers for her poster about a bio-cement that effectively plugs cracks near wells and drilling sites.

Zambare exhibited her research poster, "Biofilm induced biomineralization in a radial flow reactor," at the Council on Undergraduate Research's Posters on the Hill Exhibition April 23-24 in Washington, one of the country's most prestigious undergraduate research fairs. Zambare was accompanied by Robin Gerlach, MSU professor of chemical and biological engineering and Zambare's research mentor.

Sixty students from around the country were selected from more than 800 submissions to participate in the event held at the Rayburn Office Building, which houses offices for U.S. representatives. While in Washington, Zambare and Gerlach also had a chance to visit with senators and congressmen during the two-day event.

The experience has also cemented Zambare's interest in pursuing a doctorate and continuing her career in research, which is a long way from her goals when she was a high school foreign exchange student in Charlotte, N.C. Zambare said she knew that she was interested in both chemistry as well as engineering, a combination that put MSU with its degree in chemical engineering on her map when she was applying to universities.

She said despite the differences in her hometown of Pune, a city with eight million people in western India, and Bozeman, she immediately fell in love with the American college town.

"I come from a very big city, but I like living in a small town," Zambare said.

While Zambare thought she would finish her degree in four years and then leave for a job in industry, new horizons opened when she took one of Gerlach's classes when she was a sophomore.

Gerlach said Zambare convinced him that she would be the right person to join his lab group in the Center for Biofilm Engineering. The group trained her and then asked her to join a project that the lab had been working on for some time -- a bacterium that makes calcium carbonate and has potential applications in sealing ponds, plugging cracks emitting carbon dioxide near carbon sequestration wells as well as abandoned wells.

Zambare also was one of two students, along with Dayla Morris Topp, who developed an alternate method to reduce costly waste involved in the CBE's bioprocess lab in its study of biomineralization, a reaction that produces ammonium.

"She has been smart and hard working," said Gerlach, who is associated with both the MSU Center for Biofilm Engineering and MSU Thermal Biology Institute. "Basically she has done the work of a graduate student as an undergraduate researcher."

While at MSU, Zambare has been active in College of Engineering Ambassadors and twice has been a member of MSU's Undergraduate Scholar Program.  Gerlach and Ellen Lauchnor, a postdoctoral researcher in Gerlach's lab who is also one of Zambare's mentors, encouraged her to enter the Posters on the Hill contest. Zambare said she plans to continue researching the bio-cement, and plans to base her Ph.D. on the research.

Zambare said that opportunity to do hands-on research while an undergraduate at MSU changed her life and has her looking into research and academia for a career.  She plans to graduate in December with dual engineering degrees and is already looking at graduate schools. The research opportunities she has had at MSU, and the quality of her mentors, definitely have her considering the university for her postgraduate education, she said.

"I want to be in this field for many more years," Zambare said. "It was definitely a wonderful decision to come to MSU."

Robin Gerlach (406) 994-1840,