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Student Abhinaya Polaka standing by a window

Mighty Oak Monday: Abhinaya Polaka

Major: Environmental Science

Hometown: Proddatur, India

Class of ‘24

Have you ever thought about what is in most adhesives? There are some unpleasant components, such as formaldehyde and sodium that contribute to acid rain. Abhinaya Polaka knew there was an opportunity to make something better and spent the summer working on that via a United States Department of Agriculture-funded project called MASBio (Mid-Atlantic Sustainable Biomass Consortium).

“The goal going into the project was to make an adhesive that is eco-friendly and does not harm humans and animals.” Abhi worked with Dr. John Hu and Dr. Changle Jiang at West Virginia University, developing systems to make bio-based adhesives using lignin from pinewood sawdust. Abhi’s hard work paid off - she won first prize in a poster presentation at Penn State this past fall.

When Abhi isn’t busy doing research during the summer or working on her honors capstone, she joins fellow international students for events hosted through the Office of International Education. “The OIE staff - Tom, Hui, and Kerrie - are amazing people,” she says. “They plan dinners and events for every break, and we can always go talk to them.”

As for her future, Abhi has big plans. She's focused on sustainable materials and hopes to develop a technology in grad school she can take back to India and share among people of all backgrounds. She credits her involvement at ESF with helping develop her advocacy skills.

“I think every little thing I do at ESF has made me who I am today, and I’ve learned and grown so much.”