Student Spotlight: Bashayer Aldakkan

Bashayer Aldakkan

July 17, 2023

Bashayer Aldakkan is a doctoral student in materials science and engineering from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She earned her B.Sc. from Penn State University, double majoring in chemical engineering and economics, and her M.S. from Cornell University in materials science and engineering and now studies the synthesis of polymeric nanoparticles that are responsive to local stimuli under the guidance of Emmanuel Giannelis at Cornell.

What is your area of research and why is it important?

My area of research focuses on the synthesis of polymeric nanoparticles that are responsive to local stimuli; such that changes in pH, salinity, and temperature can either (i) prompt variation in their surface/mechanical properties and conformation/spatial configuration (swelling/shrinking) or (ii) they can undergo specific reactions to produce active agents. These nanoparticles can also be designed with enhanced colloidal stability by anchoring charged polymer chains or “brushes” on their surface achieving both steric and electrostatic stabilization and extending the system’s applications to cover extreme conditions. Responsive nanoparticles that are stable are great candidates for multitude of applications including energy production, environmental remediation, therapeutics/bioimaging, Pickering emulsions, and targeted delivery of surface-active agents. 

What are the larger implications of this research?

The ability to have this control on the material design at the nano-scale allows us to cover various fields depending on the desired material property and corresponding application. For example, in the field of environmental remediation of oil spills in seawater, controlled surfactant release is required as they can self-assemble at the oil-water interface (lowering interfacial tension) and can break big oil droplets into small emulsions that can be degraded by microorganisms. So, we designed a nanoparticle system that can be triggered by water (hydrolyzed) and this hydrolysis is accelerated by the presence of salts (seawater conditions) to generate the surfactant of interest. This provides a cost-effective approach as neat surfactant can be spent at a specific location whereas a slow-release approach from the nano-carriers provides a prolonged, extended-release profile to cover larger regions.  

What lessons did you take away from participating in the Colman Inclusive Leadership Program and how will they benefit you going forward?

One of the most important takeaways I learned from the Colman Inclusive Leadership Program is the power of self-awareness and having the opportunity to reflect on my leadership approach, how to capitalize on its strengths, as well as recognizing how to adopt different approaches based on different situations using findings from the emotional intelligence and conflict mode assessments. Establishing a leadership vision that is motivating and stimulating was also very important for me to set my boundaries and goals and define a specific plan to achieve them. 

Why do you believe it is important to develop leadership skills?

Leadership encompasses many elements that I found important for my career and academic progression when I reflect on my prior experience as an R&D engineer in industry as well as in my current role as a Ph.D. student and graduate mentor. One of the great benefits of working in a research environment is the ability to interact with diverse and interdisciplinary fields. Hence, as a project leader it is essential to have the ability to articulate clear objectives, strategies, and plans to drive projects forward as well as to motivate and influence others to achieve this shared vision. This can only be achieved by continuously striving for improvement and recognizing your leadership strengths/areas of development and reflecting on feedback and input from the people around you.   

What are your hobbies or interests outside of your research or scholarship?

Outside of the lab, I enjoy exercising and being outdoors, going for hikes and runs, kayaking, and exploring new trails around Ithaca as well as finding some time for meditation. 

Why did you choose Cornell to pursue your degree?

When it came down to choosing a graduate program, I was drawn to the interdisciplinary culture in the materials science and engineering (MSE) field at Cornell, especially coming from a different educational background in chemical engineering. It is also one of the most highly ranked programs nationwide with access to one of the best research shared facilities and institutes including Cornell Center for Materials Research, Cornell Energy Systems Institute, and Cornell Institute of Biotechnology. Also, I was very excited to work with my current advisor, Prof. Giannelis, as it was a great fit for my research area of interest with exposure to cross-collaborations in academic and industrial settings and utilizing advanced nano-scale probing techniques such as atomic force microscopy. Indeed the spectacular views on campus and the abundance of waterfalls, lakes, and gorges around Ithaca were a great addition.