Gain technical skills and community by getting involved in undergraduate research

April 09, 2024

Kate Barnard in lab

It’s Show Me Research Week, and engineering students are showing up to present work on the world’s most pressing problems. From sustainability to drug delivery systems to artificial intelligence, findings from these projects help determine next steps for our leading-edge research teams.

Kate Barnard has been involved in research since her sophomore year. A mechanical engineering student, she’s been working with civil engineering Assistant Professor Maryam Salehi on multiple research projects in order to reduce the number of microplastics in our water.

“Dr. Salehi presented to my statics class, and I was interested in the work she was doing with microplastics,” Barnard said. “I also wanted to get into undergraduate research, and this was something with real-world applications and ties to health and materials science that I was really interested in.”

Kate Barnard at Show Me Research Week

Barnard presented her first project with Salehi’s lab on creating a membrane filter for microplastics at Show Me Research Week last spring. Since then, her work has taken her further into the realm of microplastics, exploring the safe disposal of plastics used in agriculture and ways to transition away from plastic use in agriculture, as well as sediment quality in Florida after Hurricane Idalia.

“Some of what I’m doing right now includes sieve analysis for a grad student in the lab,” she said. “I am using equipment to analyze the particle size distribution in sediment samples collected from the Apalachicola Bay, Florida. We are attempting to understand the effect of hurricane on redistribution of sediment particles as well as how it affects the migration of microplastic particles down the sediment column.”

Barnard’s time in the lab is just one example of how students experience the Missouri Method, hands-on research experiences that have applications in the real world.

“I loved the diversity of these projects, learning new things and understanding new things” she said. “Building relationships with grad students has been really beneficial for me, and I’ve enjoyed having the outside purpose of going to work, being a useful part of a team in that lab, and also getting practice with engineering applications that you can’t get in the classroom as easily. I’m seeing what developing new technologies really looks like.”

Barnard says that her research experience is preparing her for a corporate career. It’s improved her professional and research communication skills, time management and technical expertise. But she also says the experience is essential for students thinking about graduate school.

Joining a research lab was also how she got involved with and first connected to the Mizzou Engineering community outside of the classroom.

“When I started in the lab, I was feeling a little disconnected,” she said. “Being in a lab, with a group of people who were all working toward the same goal gave me that sense of belonging that I’d been looking for. Being able to talk to and work with the graduate students in the lab on these shared projects, discussing our shared interests, has been something I’ve really loved. I now walk around the engineering building and think, ‘these are my people, this is what I do.’”

Get involved in research that can change the world as an undergraduate. Choose Mizzou Engineering!