REU Scholars at NC State University

In our last institutional feature in our series about the STEPS Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, we showcase the work at NC State University. This summer, four scholars have been working with STEPS faculty on their research projects. 

Adam Todd, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has been working with Dr. Jan Genzer, Research Theme 1 Co-lead. They are studying the adsorbate of a gel that has been designed to absorb phosphorus from aquatic ecosystems so that it can be used as fertilizer again. Todd says this opportunity has taught him so much about proper lab etiquette and chemistry more generally. Todd was inspired to apply to the program to see what “being a materials scientist outside of the classroom setting was like.” This program has also given him a clearer idea of what he would like to do in the future. From this experience, Todd knows that he would like to “make a positive difference in the world” as it relates to the environment. 

Adam Todd working in the lab on his individual research project. Photo courtesy Adam Todd.

Adrian Zenteno, a chemical engineering student from California State University-Long Beach, has been working with Dr. Owen Duckworth, Research Theme 2 Co-lead. They have been studying the comparative adsorption/desorption of phosphate and phosphite in different soil minerals. He just finished his research and has been busy preparing the data for the undergraduate research symposium on NC State’s campus. A typical day for Zenteno included meeting with STEPS mentors and performing research at the Plant Science Building. This program has taught him laboratory techniques, lab etiquette, and how to effectively communicate with other scientists. Zenteno says, “I was inspired to apply to this program to better understand what was involved in creating sustainable products and how scientists interact with each other to solve a complex problem.” Overall, Zenteno reflects that this program has helped him develop further understanding of topics related to chemistry and generally improved his approach to performing experiments. 

Adrian Zenteno with his faculty mentor, Dr. Owen Duckworth. Photo courtesy Adrian Zenteno.

Michaela Foster, a rising sophomore in biological systems engineering from Virginia Tech, has been working with Dr. Ross Sozzani, STEPS Co-Deputy Director, this summer. She has been working on research related to developing a screening procedure for testing late root cellular responses to phosphate starvation. In a typical week, Foster spends time in a shared lab space where she sterilizes and plates batches of seeds and creates different solutions to be used in experiments. Foster was initially inspired to apply for the REU program because the opportunity would allow her to explore career options and contribute to a mission that has a positive impact on the environment. Foster has enjoyed being an REU scholar and seeing how other REU students are tackling phosphorus sustainability through their projects with different scopes. Overall, she feels the REU experience has prepared her for her academic future, which she hopes includes a master’s degree or Ph.D. program. 

Michaela Foster working in the lab on her summer research. Photo courtesy Michaela Foster.

Our final scholar, Jake Cole, from Pomona College, has been working with Dr. Chris Gorman, a Theme 1 Researcher in chemistry. They have been developing polymers for phosphorus catch-and-release. In a typical week, Cole spends most of his time in an organic chemistry lab conducting his research. So far, Cole says he has learned a lot about organic chemistry and even more about “how I would fair in a research environment.” Cole enjoyed the alternative environment the REU program provided. Unlike the standard undergraduate demands, this program places you in a “completely self-driven world” where students may set daily goals related to their research and achieve them. Overall, Cole feels this experience has assisted him in his pursuit of his Physics degree. 

Jake Cole presents his research at NC State’s Summer REU Symposium.

To catch up on the series following the REU scholars at different schools, see learn more about the STEPS REU program, visit