Lauren Caters is an Honours student in the Department of Chemistry at UVic. Her research focuses on the environmental issue of microplastic pollution. She is investigating the surface structure interactions of these polymers. Her future aspiration following graduation is to pursue a career in healthcare.
Describe your research focus. My research focuses on the environmental issue of microplastic pollution. Microplastics can come from a wide variety of sources including personal hygiene products, such as exfoliants and toothpaste.
The two main problems associated with microplastics are related to the damage they cause when ingested by marine organisms. Not only do microplastics cause severe physical damage by impeding ingestion and respiration, but they also release toxic chemicals bound to their surface which can cause liver damage, reproductive problems and cancer.
In order to investigate this surface structure interaction, I am studying the adsorption of naphthalene onto polystyrene surfaces using surface and structure sensitive nonlinear vibrational spectroscopy. So far, little is known about the effects that the adsorbed chemicals will have on humans, however, this may potentially become an important area of research in the future!
What inspired you to get involved in research at UVic? In the spring of 2017 I decided that I wanted some hands-on lab experience. I ended up spending the summer in Dr. Hicks’ research lab studying derivatives of Indigo. I had an amazing time gaining valuable lab skills and, most of all, becoming more confident working in semi-independent research. I also learned that research labs are not as scary as they may seem!
Having some initial research experience really helped me in deciding to pursue more independent research through the Chemistry Honours Program. I had never completed any research on my own before and, honestly, I was quite intimidated by the prospect. Dr. Hore, my research supervisor, encouraged me and helped me to pick a research focus that aligned with my interests and my entire research group was extremely supportive right from the start. I really can not praise them enough, as I doubt I would have accomplished anything without their help! In addition, UVic is incredibly supportive of undergraduate research. I received direct support through the JCURA program and would highly recommend to anyone interested in gaining research experience to apply for this award.
What will you take away from your research experience? Firstly, mistakes are okay! I have come to realize it is the process, including the challenges along the way, that I have learned so much from and not necessarily the outcome. As a result, I have become much more willing to take risks and try new things. As a matter of fact, my research so far has had a few unexpected outcomes which have been both frustrating and exciting at the same time.
I have also learned that anyone considering research should just go for it and give it a try! Don’t be intimidated. You will learn so much from the process and your research team. The opportunity to put theory into practice is an amazing opportunity and will really enhance your experience in the Faculty of Science. You will also become more aware of other research opportunities, both locally and globally, including some of the amazing things that are going on right here at UVic.
Lastly, this experience has also opened my eyes to a few things that I am NOT good at. I won’t reveal them all but suffice it to say that I really need to work on my computer programming skills!
What are your future aspirations and goals? I definitely want to work in healthcare and I have the goal of attending medical school in the near future. Over the years I have absolutely fallen in love with Victoria and Vancouver Island, and ideally, I hope to have a career right here on this beautiful island.