Valeria Nava, a junior majoring in environmental engineering, has been doing undergraduate research as part of the McNair Scholars Program at the University of Nevada, Reno. A federal TRIO program funded at over 150 institutions across the country, McNair is designed to prepare undergraduate students for "doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities."
"I chose to attend the University because I attended high school here in Reno," she said. "I thought it was the best choice for me at the time because I was close to family and friends and I really liked the [engineering] program."
Nava said that she enjoys how personal the engineering program has gotten and the relationships she has built within the civil and environmental engineering department with other faculty and students.
Nava, along with her faculty mentor, Yu Yang, have been analyzing carbon nanotubes, or CNTs, and how their widespread use has led to accumulation in the environment. CNTs can become prevalent in agricultural soils, contaminating them, and can be taken up by agricultural plants leading to concerns over food safety.
"It has been great to work with Valeria, who functions like a graduate student. I am proud of her for her work and professional qualities," said Yang.
Recently, Nava gave a well-received presentation at an international conference, the Soil Science Society of America Annual Meeting, and was awarded a fellowship as part of Stanford University's summer Undergraduate Research in Geoscience and Engineering program.
"For my fellowship, I'll be going to Stanford University over the summer as part of their School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences," Nava said. "We'll be researching the arsenic uptake of rice plants and their response to climate change-like conditions, and I'm excited to learn something new and dip my toes into it."
Nava has co-authored a publication with Yang's previous Ph.D. student and is currently working on another one. She has written on topics such as the rapid analysis of CNT-spiked plant tissues using ultraviolet-visible spectroscopic analysis. Her current project focuses on enhancing plant photosynthesis with CNTs. Nava said that she wasn't exposed to a lot of work with plants in her classes, so she continues to research the topics with Yang.
"My advice is to definitely look into the McNair program, and get involved in research. Faculty are really willing and open to having you be a part of their labs," Nava said. "If you want experience, and to see what research can offer, go for it."
In her free time, Nava enjoys being outdoors and taking advantage of all the parks in Reno. "I like to play tennis on the weekends and going to get coffee and trying new restaurants with my friends," she said.
Nava is also a part of the Nevada Water and Environment Association Student Chapter on campus, and likes how many of her classmates are involved, along with the topics relating to her classes.