Your Town Friday, March Madness edition: Purdue University

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West Lafayette, Ind. - We're kicking off our March Madness tour of colleges in Indiana and we're starting with Lindy's alma mater, Purdue University.

Purdue is celebrating a 150 year legacy this year with a program called 150 Giant Leaps, highlighting the school's remarkable history of leaps.

One of the biggest leaps was made by graduate Neil Armstrong on the moon! He enrolled at Purdue in 1947 on a Navy scholarship. He passed away in 2012. Today, Armstrong Hall is the flagship building for Purdue's Engineering Department.

And today's students are ready to leave their own marks.

"When somebody leaves here with a diploma, the world knows they earned it," said Purdue University President Mitch Daniels.

Daniels became the 12th president of Purdue in 2013 after his second term as Governor of Indiana.

Some people questioned his qualifications.

"Those were very natural questions. I didn’t begrudge anybody asking them. And I thought a long time about whether I could do a good job. You don’t want to go anywhere if you don’t think you can move things ahead in some way. I’ve been made to feel very welcome."

Six years later and you'd think he's worked here his entire life. He's a regular in the student fan sections at sporting events and works out with the students, too.

"On the day we’re taping this, unless something comes up suddenly, I’ll be over there at what we call the Co-Rec. Half the fun of the job is hanging with young people and smart people and our young people are both."

He also points out the diversity.

"We have people from every state and all over the world."

Shruthi Suresh is from Indonesia and Singapore.

"For me when I first came to the U.S., my entire perspective was more about what I learned from sitcoms and TV shows!"

Suresh is a PhD student studying Biomedical Engineering.

"The flight or fight reaction is what I study. In people with spinal cord injuries it kind of goes into hyper drive due to some stimulus. So how do you prevent that from happening or how do you detect when it’s happening? Because it can be deadly. So that’s the research that I do in the lab. We basically  develop assistive technologies for people with different sorts of disabilities and that’s kind of also what Ting does."

Ting Zhang is a PhD student in Industrial Engineering.

"My research is more about helping people who are blind or visually impaired to access digital images," said Zhang.

"There are people here working on every kind of cool technology you can imagine," said Jonathan Wilker, a professor in the Department of Chemistry.

Professor Wilker and PhD student Millie Putnam are researching how to make synthetic mimics of adhesives produced by sea creatures for every day products, including beauty products.

"One thing that could be useful from making a product from our lab would be non-toxic or at least less toxic strong bonding glues that would work," said Putnam.

For instance, a non or less toxic nail or eyelash glue.

"Or if we want to take materials from our lab and say replace adhesives that are toxic in plywood so people aren’t breathing formaldehyde," said Professor Wilker. "Or if we want to make biomedical adhesives, so instead of sutures and staples and screws, you could just glue tissue together. Or if we want to make cars and planes lighter by using adhesives instead of rivets or welding. Things like that. We're touching on many, many different fields. but all of that is going on here."

Putnam said, "I of course wanted to do cool research and I think this is the coolest research that I could’ve done."

Senior Mike Hepfer's research isn't too shabby either.

"I’m a part of a company called Leo Aerospace," said Hepfer. "And what we’re doing is we’re developing a truly dedicated launch service for micro-satellites. So there are these satellites about the size of a toaster and right now they don’t have a good way to get into orbit or into space where they need to be. They have to ride share or hitchhike on giant rockets that are made for really big payloads. We’re trying to finish our small launch vehicle and comb through our full development timeline so we can provide one launch for one customer at a time."

It started in 2015 when Hepfer and a few guys had an idea. They started to research and raise some funding.

"Purdue has been incredible for me."

Hepfer credits Purdue with showing him where his place might be.

"You know, where do I kind of fit? What do I like doing? What am I comfortable with? And it turned out it’s more the route of the nontraditional, strange, out there, kinda risky startup area."

A feeling of home is more the speed of recent grad Bailey Neff.

"Purdue has always been home to me," said Neff. "I grew up about 45 minutes away in Frankfort, Indiana."

So there was no hesitation when Neff heard about an opening with the Alumni Association in Boilermaker Station.

"Being able to be a mentor for students has been huge for me."

She works with about 60 students regularly and also gets to meet some neat people with ties to Purdue.

"Orville Redenbacher is a graduate and his granddaughter comes in here occasionally just to say hi!"

Oh and before we left, there was one more thing Daniels wanted to talk about.

"You didn’t ask about the Purdue basketball team!"

And he brings up a great point!

Purdue is deadlocked with Michigan State for first place in the Big Ten standings.

Their next game is Saturday at home against Ohio State.

If you'd like Lindy to visit your town for Your Town Friday, click here.

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