Brandi Brown, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Industrial Agricultural Products Center, has been chosen to receive a USDA Postdoctoral Fellowship.
This prestigious fellowship is part of USDA's Agricultural and Food Research Initiative to develop the next generation of research, education and extension professionals in the food and agricultural sectors. The fellowship includes a two-year, $225,000 grant for a proposal Brown submitted while earning her Ph.D. in Biological Engineering at UNL, working with Rajib Saha, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.
The project will involve a "versatile microbe" that can be fed renewable feedstocks like agricultural waste products to make biodegradable plastics. Because the biodegradable plastics are derived from renewable substances, they are more friendly to the ecology and, Brown said, align with the USDA's mission.
"Because this microbe can use a wide variety of renewable substrates like agricultural products to make bioplastics, it could help provide circular economies for farmers," Brown said. "It's down to figuring out the metabolism so we can genetically engineer it, like other projects underway in Professor Saha's lab. We could optimize bioplastic production to make it more cost competitive and sustainable compared to conventional plastics."
The USDA fellowship will not only help support her research and buy laboratory equipment but will also start her on a path toward her next career goal.
"It's a good opportunity as a future professor because the USDA fellowship emphasizes individual growth," Brown said. "The grant will enable me to practice leading a project, writing grants, managing budgets, honing the scientific method and mentoring students."
While Brown originally wrote the proposal to be fulfilled at UNL, her military family received orders to transfer to Mississippi. She will complete the project in a molecular biology lab at Mississippi State University with mentorship from UNL colleagues.
As a former officer in the Air Force, combat veteran, mother, military spouse, first generation student and a woman in engineering, Brown is passionate about diversity in engineering. She wants to use her experiences to "show that diversity is one of our greatest strengths and to help others in any way I can."
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