Diana Diaz had never traveled from her home in Florida before coming to Kansas in summer 2021. But when she heard about an opportunity to do research during the summer at Kansas State University, she jumped on it.

She was one of 10 students supported by Kansas NSF EPSCoR to participate in a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program in summer 2021. 

The 10-week summer experience gave Diana the chance to get her feet wet as a scientist—both figuratively and literally. She waded rivers to collect samples and analyzed them in the lab with guidance from her mentor, K-State Associate Professor Lydia Zeglin.

Here’s Diana’s story.

What was the focus of your research?

Over the summer we were trying to see if different agricultural sites influence microbial activity and the chemistry of rivers. We took water and sediment samples every two weeks at various locations. At each site, we collected four samples across the diameter of the river.

So, you had to wade out into the river. Was it very deep?

A lot of times it was.  And I’m short! But my lab partners were taller than me and they could go to the deep end.  I would bottom out a lot with water going in my boots.

What did you do with the river samples you collected?

I analyzed them with a variety of methods, such as the enzymatic extracellular assay. We found that the samples taken from agricultural areas had higher enzyme activity compared to the grassland sites, showing how nutrients flow from crops to rivers, altering microbial growth. Another sample showed that the enzymes were less active as the summer got hotter and drier.

Coming from Florida, were you surprised by the landscape in Kansas?

Yes! There are so many hills here. Florida is flat. The highest elevation we have is probably our roller coasters in Orlando. I thought Kansas was going to be corn crops everywhere, but I was wrong. It was very pretty, and I found it interesting to see a lot of different birds than we have in Florida.

How did you hear about the program?

I did not know anything about REUs until last March when a professor mentioned it. So, I went online. I found that Kansas had a program, and it was still open. I was so happy that Dr. Zeglin was kind enough to give me the opportunity. I hope to apply to grad school next year to continue to do research.

Undergrad working a laboratory