Two undergraduate researchers from the University of Texas at Austin presented their work at the Texas state capitol during Undergraduate Research Day on March 28.
Jessica Popoola, a junior biochemistry major, and Karan Jerath, a petroleum engineering sophomore, represented UT alongside 50 other Texas universities and colleges. The theme of the event was “transforming Texas through undergraduate research,” and both of their projects exemplified the real-world transformative possibilities of student research.
Popoola’s portable diagnostic system for detecting water contamination grew out of work she did as a student in the Freshman Research Initiative. As she continues her work with Tim Riedel and other collaborators in the department of molecular biosciences, she hopes to commercialize her device so that communities can easily check their water for fecal contamination.
These entrepreneurial plans have given her an up-close appreciation for what it takes to transform research in the lab into a finished product.
Jerath’s work also has the potential to transform Texas and its waters. During high school, he began creating a separation device intended to control an oil spill in the subsea environment. Pursuing ways of commercializing his invention has shaped his perspective on the benefits of student involvement in research.
“It’s shown me at a young age that people will listen to your ideas,” Jerath said. “Research is a good springboard. It takes us out of our comfort zones and allows us to find our passions and interests. It serves as a way to experiment with what we’re interested in and see if it’s something we want to pursue.”
For this sort of undergraduate research to continue improving the lives of Texans, Popoola said, it’s crucial for the state legislature to support higher education. “It is really important to lobby for whatever change you want, and here you have research that backs up the validity of that change in front of them.”
“This event is a way to show legislators what we’re doing and how we’re trying to find ways to impact the world,” Jerath said. “It ultimately comes down to their support of the university. That gives us the ability to continue our research on problems with no definite solutions.”