Mary Jaskowiak ('17, Environmental Science with a Minor in Biology)

Mary JaskowiakWhat do you do for your undergraduate research?

I work in Dr. Cahoon's lab with optical brighteners, which are synthetic compounds found in laundry detergents. Due to their fluorescent properties, optical brighteners can be a cheap and easy way to track human waste in natural waters. However, there is natural organic matter that also fluoresces and can interfere with the detection of optical brighteners. I am working on a method of separating the optical brighteners from the natural organic matter in order to obtain more accurate results.

What made you want to pursue an undergraduate research project?

I have always been a curious person driven to learn new things. The idea of researching something that no one else ever has was very exciting to me. Participating in research also provided an opportunity for hands-on experience and allowed me to take my education to the next level.

How did you start your research project?

Freshman year I was given Dr. Cahoon's name as someone whose research matched my interests in water quality. I sent him an email describing my interests, why I wanted to work in his lab, and asking if he would be willing to meet with me. He agreed to meet with me and we talked about the possibility of a DIS project. The fall semester of my sophomore year I started my DIS project and will be doing my Honors Project with him next year.

Was doing your own research fun? Be Honest.

Research takes a lot of hard work and dedication. There are frustrating days where things do not work or you do not get the results you were hoping for. However, the days where everything works or you make new discoveries can be very rewarding and fun. The trick is working on something you care about because it makes the whole process more interesting!

It isn't required to do research as an undergrad, so what advantages do you think this experience has provided you?

Working in a lab allows you to develop new skills and learn how different tools work. This will be advantageous when applying for a graduate program or job. Participating in research also allows you to make connections with professors who can advise you, mentor you, and help you discover your interests. Spending time in a lab quickly teaches you if it is something you want to do for the rest of your life!

What are your plans after you receive your degree from UNCW?

After graduating from UNCW I plan on attending a graduate program to get my Masters in Environmental Science or a related field. After schooling, I hope to bridge the knowledge gap between science and the public in the environmental field by holding a naturalist position. Through this position I will be able to work closely with the public in order to instill an appreciation of the natural world amongst the people. I also plan to continue researching water quality to help contribute to the knowledge base in field.

Click here to view more Research Stories!