Chemical engineering major wins best presentation at the Young Scholars Summer Research Program

Laura Paz Herrera, a chemical Laura Pazengineering major at Wayne State University, earned the best presentation award and received $500 from the Young Scholars Summer Research Program held at the University of Colorado Boulder. The selective 10-week program accepts only six to eight students each summer. Once chosen, Herrera was matched with a faculty mentor and worked alongside students from prestigious schools such as  Vanderbilt University.   

Herrera’s research focused on synthesizing single atoms to improve dispersion and catalytic activity in precious metals such as palladium and platinum. If maximum efficiency is achieved from these atoms, fewer precious metals are needed, which bolsters economic and environmental viability. These metals have a wide variety of applications, including petroleum refining and chemical processing.  

Prior to the Young Scholars Program, Herrera already had extensive research experience. She worked in Professor Eranda Nikolla’s research lab for two years, where she focused on biomass conversion and improving cell activity.   

As an international student from Honduras, Herrera credits the welcoming culture and abundant opportunities at Wayne State for her success.  

“I like to say that Wayne State is my home away from home,” said Herrera. “My family still lives in Honduras, so the community I have here is very important to me. I love that the faculty is so approachable, especially Dr. Nikolla. When I first started working with her, I was very shy and lacked confidence. But she helped me build it up. I say that I go to Wayne State with such pride because of all the opportunities I have been given here.”  

Herrera serves as the vice president for the Society of Hispanic Engineers, is heavily involved with the Wayne State chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and participated in the College of Engineering’s industry mentor program. This fall, she will enter her final year of undergraduate studies. After graduating, Herrera plans to pursue a Ph.D.  

“After working with Dr. Nikolla, I know I want to continue in research,” she said. “Every day, there is something different and interesting to work on.”  

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