Graduate Research Assistant, PhD, Georgia Institute of Technology

And - STEM panel speaker

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You must strive to reach your “Ikigai”- this is a Japanese term which means “value of life”.

Claudia Okonkwo

What do you do?

I synthesize and characterize adsorbent materials which can be used to capture greenhouse gases such as H2S and CO2. These mesoporous materials are specifically used in the natural gas/bio-gas separation process where it captures these acidic gases, reduces operating costs and leads to the production of more efficient renewable natural gas. The processed gas can then be used to power our homes, cars, street light and so much more . My work creates a future for the cost effective implementation of renewable energy and combats climate change.

Why did you choose this field?

I chose Chemical Engineering  because, I enjoyed Chemistry and the challenge behind solving math, transport and kinetic problems. I was certain, Chemical Engineering was for me when I took a Quantum Chemistry and Spectroscopy class and I was very excited to learn something new in each class. I chose  to perform my research in an energy related field because of the vast potential for innovation in this field and the impact it has on both the present and the future generation. I want to be part of the scientists who made an impact, no matter how small to solve the climate change dilemma.  

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I recently filed a patent on adsorbent materials that could selectively remove H2S from a simulated biogas stream, the idea of filing a patent seemed like a far-fetched idea only capable of being achieved by the “greatest scientists of all time.” I am now fully aware that with hard work, persistence and the desire to succeed, you can be “the greatest scientist of all time.”
Additionally, winning a National Science Foundation Fellowship (NSF) which has sponsored my Graduate degree for 4 years has shown me that the sky is only the beginning of my potential to do great things.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love working in STEM because it gives me a sense of fulfilment knowing that the incremental or innovative changes I make will some day set the standard for which our future will thrive, just like Thomas Edison who created the light bulb years ago, we now use his innovation all over the world, the next advancement to improve and positively impact our world will come from STEM and I am glad to be a part of that change.

Best advice for next generation?

STEM is our future and there are vast possibilities in STEM. You must strive to reach your “Ikigai”- this is a Japanese term which means “value of life”- the intersection between what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can be paid for.
Challenges will come but the difference is your ability to stay persistent regardless of the obstacles that come your way. I recently published a paper which I had the objective to finish in 4 months. This timeline was extended by a year as a result of many equipment issues beyond my control but regardless, I was determined to complete this project. The paper and patent will not exist today if I let those obstacles stand in my way.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

I am Nigerian American and I enjoy dancing, especially to the tunes of my traditional Igbo drums.

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