From Curiosity to Expertise: My Transformative Capstone Journey

Abhishek Anil Naik, M.S., Chemical Engineering, July 2023

During the summer of my program, I opted for a fascinating Capstone project that would push the boundaries of my knowledge and skills. The main goal of the project was to ascertain whether or not glass vials will break during freeze-drying (lyophilization). Freeze-drying is a main pharmaceutical manufacturing process for production of injectable drugs, including antibiotics, protein drugs, and vaccines. Vial breakage is a typical issue encountered during freeze-drying especially when common excipients are used to improve efficiency of the process. This project is being completed in the LyoHUB facility at Purdue and has been an intriguing collaboration with Pfizer and AbbVie, both leading pharmaceutical companies.

There were a couple of factors that inspired me to embark on this specific project. I chose this project as it aligned perfectly with my previous experiences working with a company that executed a similar process. This prior exposure gave me a deep understanding of the potential challenges in pharmaceutical freeze-drying.

Of course, like any project, we faced some challenges along the way. One of the primary hurdles we encountered involved hardware issues, particularly with the sensitive sensors used to collect strain data. Handling these sensors delicately was crucial to avoid damage and ensure accurate data collection.

Thankfully, I haven't been tackling this project alone and I've been fortunate to collaborate with Ian Flynn, a LyoHUB Engineering training and alumnus of the Purdue Chemical Engineering Professional Master’s program. Our teamwork has been pivotal in navigating the project smoothly and aligning project goals.

Throughout my journey, I have acquired several new skills that I believe will prove invaluable in my future career. I have learned to solder components to chips, a necessary skill due to the sensitivity of the hardware we are using, utilize Python scripts, and use instruments such as Micro-FD to analyze and present the data graphically. This project has been transformative on a personal level as well. My technical skill set has expanded significantly, and I have gained the confidence to explore new areas of knowledge beyond chemical engineering.

I must acknowledge the role of our mentors, Dr. William Clark and Julayne Moser, who guided us through the process and helped us secure the necessary instruments and permissions from various departments and facilities. The networking opportunities were an unexpected bonus.

To any student considering this program, my advice would be to follow your interests. Purdue offers a vast array of topics, so choose one that genuinely excites you and allows you to pursue knowledge that aligns with your goals.

I am grateful for this opportunity and for the support I have received throughout this journey, and I hope my story inspires others to embrace their passions and embark on their unique journeys.