Editor’s note: March is Women’s History Month, and the LSU College of Engineering is dedicated to celebrating the bright women who have forged careers in science and engineering. Each week, the College will feature a woman—an administrator, a faculty member, a graduate student, and an undergraduate student—who has made a positive impact on the College and the industry.
Before her six-month internship at BASF in Geismar, La., Eva C. Caspary had never been to the United States, let alone a small industry town in Louisiana.
“It was a culture shock,” said Caspary, a graduate student in the Cain Department of Chemical Engineering who is originally from Germany. “But Louisiana was a great place to come for my first time. Everybody took great care of me, and everybody at BASF wanted me to learn something from my experience and not just let me sit there.”
Caspary, who is now in her fifth year of doctoral research, worked at the chemical production company from August 2008 to March 2009 to fulfill her undergraduate internship requirement, which she opted to do abroad. During that time, she worked with wastewater treatment using a Fenton’s reagent, a solution of hydrogen peroxide and an iron catalyst used to oxidize contaminants.
“The project I worked on, after two or three years, was actually realized in real life and is now part of the plant,” she said. “It was really exciting.”
So exciting, in fact, the experience motivated Caspary to continue her education at Louisiana State University. She always knew she wanted a higher degree, she said, noting she “just wasn’t satisfied after my bachelor’s degree,” but the internship was the “little nudge” she needed to apply.
“The only program I applied to was the Ph.D. program at LSU,” she recalled. “I didn’t even have a Plan B because if that hadn’t happened, I probably would have just gotten my master’s in Germany. I was able to get my Ph.D. right away at LSU, and that was quite big for me.”
After the internship, she returned to Germany to complete her degree in process engineering at Hochschule Mannheim, known in English as the Mannheim University of Applied Sciences. And immediately after graduation, she returned to the Bayou State.
Now, Caspary is in the final stretch of her doctoral research, examining the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, by pyrolizing a known model fuel and analyzing the products of this fuel.
“It’s like solving a little riddle,” she says. “We know what we put in, we see what coms out, and we’re trying to retrace the steps it took to get there. PAH can be formed from pyrolytic reactions in combustion processes, and they are known pollutants, and they’re also carcinogenic or mutagenic, or some of them are, and we want to understand how they’re formed, so that other people can understand how to not make them form anymore.”
She estimates she has about two more years until her work is complete, and her passion for engineering is every bit as strong as it was when she started.
“It’s been really rewarding,” she said. “Not only does [graduate school] teach you a lot about how to scientifically address problems, it teaches you a lot about yourself: how far you can go, what your borders are. That’s something I’m happy to learn in this environment so I can apply that later on in my job.”
But it’s not a field for anyone who isn’t committed to the science, she advises.
“If you’re doing a PhD, it’s important for people to know the interest has to be there,” she said. “This becomes your life. This is a job you take home. You think about it day and night. This is your baby.”
For more information contact Sydni Dunn, LSU College of Engineering, 225-578-5706, firstname.lastname@example.org