Student Spotlight | April 2020
Major: Chemical Engineering, with a Petroleum emphasis of study
Describe your research/creative work in just a few sentences that we can all understand: In the KU Biodiesel Initiative production lab, we convert waste vegetable oil from the campus cafeterias into usable biodiesel fuel. My research involves removing some of the impurities from this waste cooking oil using raw organic materials such as coconut husks and soybean hulls, in order to make the reaction more efficient and improve the economics of the process.
Q: Who mentors your project?
A: Dr. Susan Williams in the Chemical Engineering Department. I am extremely lucky to have been introduced to her and involved in her lab. She has enabled me to pursue some awesome opportunities.
Q: What surprised you about doing a larger research project?
A: I didn't realize just how much time I would need to spend refining the scope of my project. I was very eager to start on a monumental undertaking, so it was important for me to take the time to set tangible, realistic goals.
Q: What did you find most challenging about getting involved in or doing your project? What advice would you offer to students facing similar challenges?
A: For me it was fairly intimidating trying to learn everything there is to know about the area of my research since I was coming into my project with very little experience. I would certainly tell other students that it doesn't matter if you aren't an expert in your field on the first day. Also, a short conversation with a good mentor can often provide more insight than reading a dozen research articles.
Q: What do you like most about your project?
A: I love that the KU Biodiesel Initiative has an amazing culture of student-led projects. Having the freedom to explore in the areas that most interested me really allowed me to find a project that I could get inspired by. That, and having an awesome team of undergraduates, grad students, and Dr. Williams, really motivates me to strive for excellence.
Q: What advice would you give to a friend wanting to get involved in research?
A: Honestly, I tell all of my friends just to meet people. Talk to GTAs and professors in all of your classes and ask what research projects they work on. In my experience, almost everyone who works in research is very eager to talk about it and most people are very forthcoming about inviting people to join their project. We in the Biodiesel Initiative absolutely love having new students join, so if anyone reading this is at all curious about what we do, please do not hesitate to reach out to me personally.
Q: How do you spend your time when you're not working on your research?
A: I have a wonderful girlfriend and we spend a lot of time together. I LOVE to ski and we try to get to the mountains once a year over breaks. I also love to cook and I'm a car guy so I try to turn some wrenches every chance I get. I have a really excellent group of friends I play cards with, and when I've got a night off I'll usually just re-watch The Office for the 15th time.