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Erik Curtis

Background

I am an undergraduate junior in the Department of Chemical Engineer at Penn State University. I am a Schreyer Honors Scholar, and my research interests include process development and online measurement techniques as they apply to biological processes.
I am extremely interested biological and environmental systems, and I have sought to apply my aptitude for hands-on learning and “tinkering” to improve processes and systems around the lab (and to fix the things that break!) 


Projects

Summer 2014: Jenkins Lab in the Department of Entomology in collaboration with CurtisLab
I assisted Dr. Jenkins in optimizing a process for the two-stage production of Beauvaria bassania, an entomopathogenic fungus. This process was developed to produce a Beauvaria spore-based insecticidal treatment for the biological control of Cimex lectularius, the common bedbug.

Analysis of Growth Parameters of Beauvaria Bassania:

My responsibilities included an extensive analysis of factors limiting rate of spore production. Factors impacting growth studied include:
  • Rate of blastoconidium development in liquid media 
  • Solid substrate inoculation concentration and resulting mycelial growth 
  • Impact of supplemental nutrient media in solid substrate to address limiting nutrient density 
  • Moisture activity of solid substrate 
  • Impact of supplemental oxygen transfer on mycelial development and growth patterns with respect to oxygen supply

Optimization of these parameters yielded significant spore production per kilogram of substrate (>20%).

Process Scaling/Bioreactor Design:
The second aspect of my research sought to improve production methods for the mass-production of a Beauvaria bassania-based commercial product. A scale-down process was attempted in order to improve optimization efficiency, however was abandoned due to difficulty in quantifying spore production without significant capital investments.

For large-scale commercial production I sought to develop a production which allowed for the linear scale-up of a production system. The existing process was carried out in individual kilogram-scale vessels, and was extremely labor-intensive to produce and harvest. As an alternative design I produced a comparable forced-convection bioreactor and assessed growth rate and practical scalability.

Fall 2012-Spring 2013:
Designing and using an electrolysis rig to address the often overlooked safety concerns involved in bioreactors fed H2/O2 gas mixtures. While tests suggest the gas mixture being used in the lab are not explosive while contained in the reactor (i.e. without supplemental oxygen), open flame resulting in exposure to atmospheric O2 renders the mixtures highly flammable and potentially explosive.