Hello, my name is Kara DiNatale and I am a rising junior in the Honors Program. I am majoring in Chemical Engineering with a concentration in Materials Engineering and I am participating in a 10 week National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU) at the University of Southern Mississippi School of Polymers and High Performance Materials in Hattiesburg, MS. Part of why I choose to do a program like this was because I’m not sure if I want to go to grad school or not (and REU programs are good for helping the uncertain get a better idea) and to see other parts of the country- and so far this summer has exceeded expectations!
It doesn’t hurt that I’ve gotten to do some pretty cool science stuff too! My project during my 10 week stay here at USM is researching the effects of nanofillers (such as clay and carbon nanotubes) on the properties of polymers (mainly rubbers), under the direction of Prof. Sarah Morgan. I start my days by getting up at about 8:30- I get up, grab a bagel from the dining hall or a bag of dry cereal from my room, and report the Polymer Science building at 9:00. The first 2 weeks we (the REU students, aka “REUs”) had classes in the morning but now I just go straight to my lab. I usually do work (mixing rubber-filler nanocomposites, running tests, reading papers, analyzing results…) until noon when I grab lunch and hang out with the other REUs for an hour or so. Then I go back to work until 5:00 or 6:00 depending on what I need to get done. Once a week the daily routine gets broken up by a group meeting where all of us in Dr. Morgan’s research group update each other on what we’ve done, which is cool since I get to hear other people’s research. Some weeks there’s also a seminar one afternoon where a grad student is either defending their thesis or presenting their prospectus (a proposal for their thesis research). I know this sounds pretty boring and like really long days, but it’s actually a ton of fun- I’ve learned so much and met so many people!
In my free time (aka: after work and on the weekends) I go to the gym, practice lacrosse, watch TV, and hang out with the other REUs as well as the grad students we work with. We have movie nights, Wal-Mart adventures, bowling trips, watched dirt track car races, and have gone on some pretty awesome day trips- Blueberry picking, canoeing, floating down river on inner tubes, the beach, and my favorite trip-New Orleans! I honestly think that my favorite part of this summer (in addition to all the cool science stuff) is the people I’ve met and the fun we’ve had together!
Some of my friends and me in New Orleans with a jazz band we saw performing.