2023 RBI Spring Workshop Experience from a Student's Perspective (Part 1)

Elyssa Ferguson, RBI Fellow at the 2023 Spring Workshop Poster Session

Elyssa Ferguson, RBI Fellow during the Student Poster Session at the 2023 RBI Spring Workshop on Packaging Innovation and the Circular Economy

A highlight of the Renewable Bioproducts Institute (RBI) workshops is the student poster session that provides industry interaction for Paper Science and Engineering (PSE) Fellows and an opportunity to communicate the breadth of research supported by RBI to the workshop participants. The session also provides a chance for new students to share their project scope, goals and receive useful feedback. This is the first of a series of Q&As from PSE students who share their experience at the 2023 RBI Spring Workshop on Packaging Innovation and the Circular Economy Elyssa Ferguson, a Mechanical Engineering graduate student shares her experience below.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Elyssa Ferguson. I earned my B.S. in mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). I am pursuing my M.S. in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. I am an RBI Fellow, GEM Fellow, and Women of Woodruff (WoW) Fellow, and I work in the Water-Energy Research (WERL) Lab, under the direction of Akanksha K. Menon, assistant professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering. My research focuses on developing sustainably sourced natural fibers for thermal insulation in buildings. My project is a part of the Carbon-Negative Building Materials based on Engineered Wood for Structural and Thermal Insulation Applications project. Menon and I collaborate with Kyriaki Kalaitzidou, Rae S. and Frank H. Neely Professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering and Joe F. Bozeman III, assistant professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Public Policy. I also work with graduate students, Elnaz Jamshidi from the School of Materials Science and Engineering and Arjun Thangaraj Ramshankar from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering on this project. 

How was your experience at the RBI workshop? 

Attending the RBI workshop was a valuable learning experience. I learned about the variety of exciting work in the renewable packaging realm that is going on at Georgia Tech and other organizations. This work is driving sustainable innovation, yet there are challenges. The discussions regarding the barriers to innovation and areas for growth were very thought-provoking and motivating. 

What was your main takeaway from the poster session? 

During the poster session, I shared information about my research and had the privilege to talk to many people in the industry. There is much interest in thermally insulating natural fibers for building applications and for other applications like cold-chain packaging and textiles. Speaking with the workshop participants during the poster session broadened my mind to the potential myriad of applications for natural-fiber-based thermal insulation on a global scale. I also learned more about the existing challenges researchers and industrial peers are facing – one being the lack of standardization of nomenclature and methodology. Receiving positive feedback on the design of my poster was also helpful. I deliberately designed a poster that incorporated aesthetics to convey my ongoing research. I plan to apply the helpful information and feedback that I received during the RBI workshop to my future work. 

What more would you like to see in future events at the Renewable Bioproducts Institute?

I am very interested in seeing more seminars related to sustainable building materials, especially insulating materials, and textiles, as these topics are closely related to my research project. Fascinating work is happening at other universities and at companies in Georgia and around the world. It would be great if there is a seminar series including these organizations. 


Read Part 2 - Tanner Hickman

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