If undergraduates who publish journal articles about their research are gradually becoming more commonplace, then Daryll Munoz still breathes rare air.
The senior chemical and biochemical engineering major already has his name on two papers in prestigious chemistry journals, based on work he began as a rising sophomore enrolled in the Aresty Summer Science Program.
Munoz’s mentor, assistant professor Fuat Celik, credits his student’s achievement to a combination of building his skills and abilities during two-and-a-half years in the lab and additional mentoring from graduate student Ashley Pennington. Beyond that, he also got some good breaks.
“Uniquely for him, he ended up on two different projects that both wrapped up while he was a student, and on both, his contributions were significant enough to rate co-authorship,” Celik said.
Munoz’s research centered around catalysts for producing hydrogen gas that can be used as an emissions-free source of energy for vehicles.
In his first project, he used a new technique to analyze the chemical structures of commercial titanium dioxide, commonly used for white pigments but with potential to photocatalyze hydrogen production from methane.
In his second, which he started in the summer after his sophomore year, he created defects in the titanium dioxide lattice structure that would make it a more effective catalyst.
“The fact that Dr. Celik and Ashley thought my work was so robust that I could be part of the publication was awesome,” Munoz said. “Not many of my friends who are doing research get the same opportunity to be recognized for the work they did.”
The first project was published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Physical Chemistry C, and the second in Elsevier’s International Journal of Hydrogen Energy.
Celik reflected on his doctoral work at the University of California, Berkeley, where he mentored six undergraduates.
“I gained an appreciation for how much an undergraduate student who is motivated can contribute to a research project,” he said. “That’s the experience I wanted to recreate in my lab here at Rutgers.”
Celik tells the Aresty Summer Science Program students he interviews what they should expect if they join his lab.
“Many just want to learn how lab work goes, but I’m going to teach them to be an actual researcher,” he said. “Working in a lab is just part of that. Publication is the currency of research. We talk about whether or not something can get published or how it might get published, and then we talk about plans to make the work they’re contributing publishable.”
And when students graduate, publication experience helps them stand out.
“Being a coauthor indicates that they have the ability to multitask,” he said. “Most people who are hiring know how difficult it is to publish a paper, so if students have managed that as undergraduates, it’s a real plus for their applications.”
Munoz, who was born in the Philippines and came to the United States when he was seven years old, graduated from nearby Piscataway High School. After he graduates, he will join Accenture as a consulting analyst.