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Undergraduate Researcher

Adam Plucinski; photo by Lauren Ingeno

PHOTO: LAUREN INGENO

When Adam Plucinski returns to Penn State this fall to begin a Master’s program in Agricultural and Biological Engineering, he will be no stranger to working in a laboratory.

As an undergraduate Plucinski worked under Dr. Jeff Catchmark in Penn State’s Center for NanoCellulosics, and he thinks he has a leg up on his peers who did not have research experience.

“It gives you a little hands-on behind the theory,” Plucinski said. “You can sit there in class and learn a lot about different equations and things, but this gives you a good idea of how what you’re learning can be applied in real life.”

Plucinski’s work in Catchmark’s lab involved finding how biologically derived materials could be used as a more sustainable and environmentally friendly alternative to a certain type of plastic. The polymers used to synthesize these new materials are polysaccharides, monosaccharides, and proteins found in food sources.

Besides gaining practical training for a career, Plucinski said another benefit of undergraduate research was acquiring interpersonal skills.

“You work with an experienced staff and interact in a group-type setting, which you don’t really get in a classroom,” he said. “It helps you build a rapport with different professors and they’re willing to help you.”

Plucinski approached Catchmark about conducting research during a class he was in with the professor in 2011. He said the professor took him “under his wing” and wrote him recommendations for graduate school.

Similarly, Plucinski hopes to influence and help future generations of students by obtaining his Ph.D. and eventually becoming a college professor.