Kevin Pataroque '21

Kevin Pataroque

Hometown: Lake Oswego, Oregon

Project title: “Degradation of Perfluoroalkyl compounds by interfacial reactions between a non-equilibrium plasma and water.”

Mentor: R. Mohan Sankaran, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Elevator Speech: Drinkable water is a precious commodity: though the majority of our planet is covered with water, only 2.5% is freshwater. These freshwater supplies are further polluted by artificial contaminants such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical used in industry. Our lab is currently developing a system that utilizes atmospheric plasmas to break down these contaminants, using PFOA as a basis. These results demonstrate that plasmas can provide sufficient energy to break down these contaminants, but we still need to investigate the plasma-formed species that degrades these chemicals. Through this project, we hope to introduce a system that can eradicate several contaminants, ensuring the cleanliness of one of our most valuable resources.

Reflection: "Through my time as an undergraduate researcher, I’ve learned how to organize my time effectively. After talking with my PIs, I began to create a separate document outlining my tasks and how they fit into weekly and overall goals of the project. In addition, I write a reflection after I finish experiments about what I did and items I should complete next, as well as anything unexpected that occurred. 

Part of the research experience is to experience setbacks: my own experiments conflicted with what the literature stated from time to time, which required further investigation. Over time, I’m still learning to accept that I may have erred in some step of my experiment, which may have compromised the results I’m obtaining. Despite this, I’m also learning to have more trust in my own ability. As a researcher, my own duties are to study and contribute to my specialized field, which may include disputing or adding onto other findings."