Akalanka Tennakoon is going into his junior year as a chemistry/chemical engineering major, but he’s known for quite some time that a career in this field would be his passion. He said, “Ever since I took chemistry classes in high school, I knew my life would revolve around chemistry. I am fascinated by how observations of miniscule particles could explain almost all major phenomena in the universe.”
This is why he started taking a hands-on approach to his studies early on. Since the beginning of his sophomore year, Tennakoon has been working on a project with Adam Hock, assistant professor of chemistry. Lab work he conducted in his Organic Chemistry class piqued his interest in beginning research outside the classroom and this prompted him to reach out to Hock, who was doing research in line with Tennakoon’s interests, for opportunities. In Hock’s lab, he helped design a reactor for performing catalytic testing. Upon Hock’s instruction, he found parts, contacted vendors, and obtained quotes. Of this work, Hock said, “All of these achievements were within one year, and with Akalanka starting from zero research experience and no coursework in inorganic chemistry.”
Over the summer, Tennakoon used the reactor he helped create to test catalysts he prepared and characterized for butane dehydrogenation activity, and to explore new catalysts to attempt to understand the influence of the support material on catalyst performance. This research will carry on into the school year, culminating in Tennakoon submitting and, if all goes well, publishing a first author paper on the work in the fall.
After graduation, Tennakoon plans to pursue a Ph.D. Hock is confident that Tennakoon will be nothing short of successful in this goal, as he said, “Akalanka’s technical skills upon graduation will be those of a mid-career graduate student.”