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Research and Innovation

Undergraduates Contribute to Textile Research in Sustainability, Health through Summer REU Program

Emma Myer-Medina (left) and Januka Budhathoki-Uprety (right) work at a lab bench examining liquid in vials. Emma is using a pipette to add liquid into the vial. Both wear face masks, gloves, protective eyewear and lab coats.

By Sarah Stone

Developing methods to remove dyes from wastewater, innovating portable sensors to speed up medical diagnoses, and testing battery life to improve efficiency and sustainability: it’s all in a day’s work for students involved in the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the Wilson College of Textiles

The Wilson College’s Department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science hosts the program every summer. 26 students from as far away as France participated this year. 

What is REU? 

Undergraduate students interested in research must apply to the program first. Research Assistant Professor Amanda Mills then takes a look at their experience and interests to line students up with the right lab for them. 

Those students spend the next 10 weeks immersing themselves in the research lab environment. They work about 20 paid hours per week, doing everything from background research to assisting in lab work and conducting experiments. 

“I got to run a couple of experiments, which is very exciting,” Emma Myer-Medina, a junior majoring in polymer and color chemistry, says. She worked with graduate student Meghan Lord in Assistant Professor Januka Budhathoki-Uprety’s lab this summer. “I got to do a little bit of synthesis for polymers, which are really interesting because I’ve been learning about that in class for basically the last two years. It’s really cool to see how that actually works in person.”

Nigar Sultana (left) and Teresa Fiorito (right) in a lab. Both wear face masks, gloves, protective eyewear and lab coats. They look at the camera, smiling. Nigar holds up a vial to the camera with her right hand.
Sultana (left) and Fiorito (right). Fiorito assisted with the lab’s research developing carbon nanotube-based pH sensors.

Teresa Fiorito also gained experience in Budhathoki-Uprety’s lab this summer. She says REU provided her with a great opportunity to build her resume early in her college career.

“I wanted experience after my first year and I was a little bit intimidated by getting into an internship or a job of some sort,” Fioritio, a sophomore majoring in textile engineering, says. “I heard about the REU my first semester through a friend, and they said that I would be guided through a mentor and a faculty member, so I thought it’d be a less intimidating way to get experience and to have guidance throughout the program.” 

A Wilson College doctoral student is partnered up with each REU student to familiarize them with lab techniques and provide direction and support along the way. The experience benefits the doctoral students as well, giving them more time to conduct research for their dissertation. 

Teresa Fiorito stands to the right of a research presentation poster about her time in REU. She looks at the camera and smiles.
Teresa Fiorito presented her research at a university-wide symposium for undergraduate research.

“Teresa is a very quick learner. I found that she can absorb a lot of information in a short amount of time,” Nigar Sultana, who mentored Fiorito, says. “That helped me a lot to progress in my research project and get some meaningful results.”

Sultana is building upon the research she conducted with Fiorito’s help this summer. 

Career development inside and outside the lab

REU also helps prepare students for a career outside the lab. Participants have the opportunity to take part in a number of networking opportunities and career development seminars over the course of the summer. 

“I think the managing stress workshop was definitely my favorite. Just because stress can be a big part of any college experience,” Myer-Medina says. “So it was really helpful learning just little tips and tricks to help myself not be so stressed by school or by research.”

Mengmeng Zhu and a graduate student work with an undergraduate student in a lab. Zhu and the graduate student stand behind the undergraduate student, who sits in a chair in front of a computer screen of results that all three are looking at. The camera is taken from the right side. A heavy piece of machinery with lots of red wires is visible on the right side of the frame.
Assistant Professor Mengmeng Zhu hosted an undergraduate student to help with her batter research through the REU program.

Mills says another key goal of the program is to demystify the idea of research. She also organized workshops about graduate school admissions and funding to help students realize an advanced degree is accessible to them. 

“I’ve definitely learned that research isn’t just standing up in a lab 24/7,” Myer-Medina jokes. “It’s sitting at a computer for hours reading many, many articles. This experience has definitely confirmed that I like to do research, and I am considering doing graduate school because of it.”