UNLV College of Engineering graduate student Emma Letourneau is among 32 scholars nationwide awarded a prestigious Tau Beta Pi Fellowship for the 2023-24 academic year. The fellowship, awarded to only about 10% of applicants each year, comes with a $10,000 stipend for advanced study. The oldest engineering honor society, Tau Beta Pi has awarded nearly 1,800 fellowships since the program began in 1929.
Letourneau, who earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UNLV in 2022, decided to continue with graduate studies at the university thanks in part to the experiential learning and research opportunities she actively pursued while an undergraduate student in the College of Engineering. Working in the Energy and Environmental Materials Lab led by UNLV engineering professor Jaeyun Moon, Letourneau sought environmentally friendly and less costly ways — through the use of filtering materials — to remove contamination from the water and air.
She’s continuing that work today as a graduate research assistant in Moon’s lab. Their research centers around biochar — a charcoal-like substance created in the lab from agricultural waste materials like peanut shells or rice husks. After the biochar is made, Letourneau is able to modify it with various chemicals to enhance its adsorption efficiency. That process better enables the biochar to capture and filter pollutants out of the water, including metals like lead, or chemical compounds like trichloroethylene (TCE) or carbon dioxide.
TCE, an industrial waste product, is at the center of Letourneau’s work. She’s studying ways to use biochar to remove TCE from groundwater as part of a project funded by the Savannah River National Laboratory.
In addition to her strong academic record and her involvement in extracurricular activities at UNLV, Letourneau’s work in Moon’s lab was a key reason she achieved the highly competitive Tau Beta Pi fellowship.