Repelling Water

By: Meg Henderson

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Posted: 6/20/2023

Repelling Water Photo By: Dominique Belcher

NATIVE OF SHREVEPORT, LOUISIANA, MADELINE (MADDIE) GNANN has always felt at home in the outdoors. Throughout her childhood, Gnann spent her summers near Little Rock, Arkansas at Ferncliff, an overnight camp that incorporates conservation and sustainable living into everyday activities. These summers helped shape her worldview and eventually drew her to major in sustainable bioproducts at Mississippi State University. “I haven’t always known what I wanted to do, but I have always wanted to leave a place better than I found it, and that’s why I’m majoring in sustainable bioproducts,” Gnann said.

During her senior year of high school, Gnann was looking at several different universities, but she said that MSU wasn’t really on her radar. After receiving literature in the mail about the sustainable bioproducts program and then visiting campus, she had a strong change of heart. “After visiting and taking a tour of campus, I just knew that MSU would be a perfect fit,” she said.

In her first year at MSU, Gnann was invited by her professor DR. XUEFENG "JASON" ZHANG to assist Ph.D. student OSHANI NAYANATHARA on a research project developing paper-based water-resistant packaging materials with a method that uses metal ions to repel water. “We were working with paper, which is usually hydrophilic, meaning it absorbs water. Items like tissues, toilet paper and paper towels are designed to be hydrophilic. They found a way to make paper hydrophobic, which means that it resists water,” she said.

Gnann has been assisting Zhang and Nayanathara in the lab, measuring the contact angles of water on the hydrophobic papers and learning how to mix chemical solutions. In addition to this valuable opportunity to conduct research, Zhang invited her to participate in the 2022 Undergraduate Research Symposium, where she gained practical experience in writing an abstract and creating and presenting an academic poster. PROFILE2022 ANNUAL REPORT 27 “At the time, I didn’t realize what an unusual opportunity attending the symposium was for a freshman. Most of the other students were upperclassmen, so it was a big deal for me to participate,” Gnann said.

Before coming back to campus to begin her second year, Gnann had an opportunity to return to Ferncliff, this time as a counselor and staff member. “I always knew that I would come back and help teach children about sustainability, keeping your footprint small, and living green,” she said. She added that she has been able to pass on to her campers what she is learning in her courses, and she sees her work as a counselor as an opportunity to inspire the next generation about the natural world.

Looking forward, Gnann sees herself going to graduate school to continue and deepen her education, but she has a few years to figure out which direction her studies will take her. Whatever that choice may be, she feels that the faculty in the sustainable bioproducts department have given her a solid foundation to succeed. “In our department, there is always someone who is willing to help. It feels like every single person in the department knows who I am, and it feels good to be recognized and not just another face in the crowd,” she said.

Sustainable Bioproducts