Sarah graduated from Drexel University with a Bachelors and Masters degree in Materials Science and Engineering in 2013. Bringing together her love for Spanish-speaking countries and her focus in biomaterials and bio/synthetic, biomimetric polymer systems, she decided to apply for a Fulbright scholarship and is now carrying out her Fulbright grant in Chile to understand the applications of science and engineering in her host country.
Here in Concepción, Chile, my research is still centered on polymers with biological applications. I work in the Centro de Investigación de Polímeros Avanzados (Center for Advanced Polymers Research) in collaboration with the Department of Chemistry here in the Universidad de Concepción. My project, like science is oft to do, changed a bit upon arrival. My presentation in Santiago to the Fulbright Commission was entitled “Utilizing bacteria to produce biological, environmentally-friendly polymers for medical applications”, wherein I discussed the development and use of polyhydroxyalkanoate-based systems for wound healings. Now, I am using polyhydroxybutyrate (a class of polyhydroxyalkanoate, with possibilities for increasing chain flexibility depending on its chemistry) to create biodegradable nanoparticles which encapsulate natural polyphenols.
On a personal level, I have been deeply enjoying my experience here. Working and living speaking another language has been an exciting, humbling, and at times frustrating experience for me. Although it may seem trivial to some, developing a daily routine has been the most meaningful to my sense of independence. I joined a gym for my health but also to meet new people and it has been a very welcome addition to my days. (Zumba in South America is definitely something!) My main advice to other students interested in applying to an international fellowship, is put your health first.
The picture on the left is of a visit to Lota, a former coal-mining town on the sea. Part of the mine, named Chiflón del Diablo (The Devil’s Whistle), is underwater—at that point I was crawling through the tunnels. Afterwards we went to Parque Isidora Cousiño (Parque de Lota), a very beautiful park full of indigenous Chilean flora overlooking the sea. The next picture is of me in Cerro Santa Lucía, located in the center of Santiago de Chile. Pedro de Valdivia, a Spanish conquistador, took the hill on December 13, 1541. Now, it is full of lookouts, monuments, and unbelievable architecture.
The collage is of a few buildings I loved in Santiago (including the main fountain on Cerro Santa Lucía). Finally, I recommend to any tourist of the city to visit el Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights). It is incredibly emotional and educational and pays tribute to the victims of human rights violations during the Pinochet era.
I am incredibly proud to be representing Drexel during this journey of mine and hope to send a new update soon. As always, I am happy to advise any student interested in pursuing their own adventure, just let me know.
Sarah Lightfoot Vidal
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