Era Joy Padilla Agus
Hometown: Quezon City, National Capital Region, Philippines
Graduation date: Spring 2024
Additional details: Barrett--The Honors College
FURI | Fall 2022
Heat Transfer Modeling of Solid-State Fermentation Bioreactors to Produce Medicine in Space Habitats
This project seeks to determine the most optimal design for growing penicillin through solid-state fermentation (SSF) bioreactors. SSF is a promising method used to grow fungi, which can produce antibiotics like penicillin. Compared to other methods, SSF results in higher yields of penicillin in less time and requires fewer resources — which is ideal in resource-sensitive environments such as spacecraft on long-term exploration missions. The heat transfer of various SSF bioreactors were modeled to determine which design resulted in the most optimal regulation of heat through forced aeration and agitation.
Mentor: Apollo Arquiza
Featured project | Fall 2022
Biomedical engineering junior Joy Agus is helping to make antibiotic production sustainable during space travel. Her FURI research with Apollo Arquiza, a biomedical engineering lecturer, involves modifying polymers for penicillin growth in bioreactors.
What made you want to get involved in FURI and the project you’re working on?
I wanted to get involved in FURI because it’s a way to explore the field of biomedical engineering outside of my classes. I chose the project I’m working on because it allowed me to gain a better sense of what goes into making an efficient bioreactor using an innovative fermentation method.
Have there been any surprises in your research?
Yes! I did not expect that so much work went into ensuring the safety of the researchers when it comes to dealing with certain materials like bacteria or fungi. I was also surprised by how much heat is generated by fungi to produce penicillin. This is important because the best bioreactor would have the best aeration and agitation mechanisms to be able to regulate that heat and prevent malfunction.
How will your engineering research project impact the world?
Creating a functional solid-state fermentation bioreactor for spacecraft that produces penicillin will help make space travel more sustainable. A resource-efficient way of keeping medicine on hand can only make sustainable space travel a more attainable reality.
A bioreactor is simply any system/apparatus that supports the growth of microorganisms under controlled conditions. For this FURI project, we are designing multiple laboratory-scale bioreactor prototypes. The operation volume of laboratory-scale (or small scale, not commercial or industrial) bioreactors is in grams.
Solid-state fermentation, or SSF, is a type of fermentation process that has been regaining popularity for many reasons over its counterpart, submerged fermentation, or SmF. Solid-state fermentation is defined as the growth of microorganisms in moist, insoluble substrates with low water content. A low water requirement means lower consumption and less wastewater generation, which means this method of fermentation requires less energy and resources to keep bioconversion processes up and running in addition to a higher yield of products. The substrate in an SSF system is a solid matrix that serves as the structural support and supplier of nutrients to encourage microbial growth.
Why should other students get involved in FURI?
Other students should get involved in this program so they can get a more accurate or more informed sense of what research is like. If a student is considering multiple career paths, and research is one of them, FURI is definitely a good way to get introduced to the whole process so they can figure out what they want to do and where their interests lie.
Is there anything else you want to mention about your experience?
There have been so many surprises, but I’m glad I get a chance to be involved in a research project that is interesting to me and learn more about a certain topic — which in this case is bioreactors — that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise in my regular classes.