Daniel Gil Valenzuela, a double major pursuing a bachelor’s in physics and chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry, was selected as FAU’s Stan and Renee Wimberly Scholar. The Wimberly Scholar award, which has been given to one FAU student each year since 1971, is the most prestigious student academic prize given by our university. It is awarded in recognition of outstanding academic achievement.
Daniel performs undergraduate research in chemistry and physics under the mentorship of Vivian Merk, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemistry, and has worked with Korey Sorge, Ph.D., an assistant professor of physics.
What type of research are you performing?
Dr. Vivian Merk and I work on the imaging and chemical characterization of biominerals. We have previously synthesized minerals such as calcium carbonate and strontium sulfate with organic inclusions to study the effect of the inclusions on the crystal structure. Our current work entails the study of molar incisor hypomineralization affected teeth via atomic force microscopy and Raman spectroscopy in order to map the chemical composition of these samples and obtain structural information of analyzed regions.
How are you supported by your mentors?
Throughout my time at FAU, I have been supported by my instructors and colleagues through advising and research opportunities. I was introduced to research through the NSF LEARN program, by which I was connected to research mentors with the aid of Dr. Donna Chamely-Wiik (Director of FAU’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Inquiry) and Dr. Jordan Merritt (LEARN Postdoctoral Fellow). Some of my colleagues and I returned to the NSF LEARN program as Peer Mentors to assist the new cohort of students in transitioning to the university and research environment. Dr. Sorge, Dr. Chamely-Wiik, and Dr. Merritt have especially assisted with the planning of my career goals, particularly with respect to my graduate school prospects. Since Summer 2020, I have worked with Dr. Merk on the aforementioned projects and I completed a Directed Independent Study with her during the Fall 2020 semester. Dr. Merk and her graduate students, Dawn Raja Somu and Steven Soini have been crucial to the development of my instrumentation skills throughout the past year.
What are your plans after you graduate?
I applied for a summer NASA internship so ideally, I'll participate in that after I graduate this Spring 2021. In any case, I intend to apply for a Ph.D. program this coming Fall so that I may begin my graduate studies in Fall 2022. In the meantime, I will apply to jobs in either chemistry or physics fields and work until I begin my graduate studies.
What did you like best about your time at FAU?
I think what I liked best about my time at FAU was being able to meet new peers and associate with them through extracurricular activities. Prior to the pandemic, I was active in the Society of Physics Students FAU chapter and the LEARN club. Through these associations, I engaged with students in my degree programs as well as my mentees to complete certain tasks and enjoy some time off from the stress of coursework. I'm usually busy balancing school and work obligations, so engaging with clubs and taking part in research conferences always felt like a nice break from everything else.