Chemistry started as Samantha Kruse’s favorite subject at Waterloo High School and has since evolved into the field in which she is pioneering research.
Kruse, a second year graduate student at the University of Iowa and a PhD candidate, is a recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellows Program. Through this, she is awarded financial support and other resources to explore how combinations of organic materials react when exposed to different forms of radiation.
In doing so, she hopes to produce an organic combination that will not be destroyed when exposed to radiation – a phenomena that causes severe environmental impacts.
“Eventually every material is going to break down, so just finding that preferential material that can be longer lasting than what we have right now (would be fantastic),” Kruse said.
While there is existing research of how inorganic materials react to radiation exposure, Kruse said “there’s very little to go off of” when it comes to organic materials.
In this way, Kruse is a pioneer.
“We’re laying a foundation for future chemists, scientists and engineers to look at how we can design materials with the purpose of them not undergoing as much damage or instant defects with exposure to radiation,” Kruse said.
At times, Kruse said, this can be quite daunting.
“Starting a project from ground zero is very difficult. There’s a lot of trial and error that goes into it, and it took about a year to figure out how we’re moving forward with this project and exactly what we wanted to do, but ultimately it’s extremely rewarding,” Kruse said.
Kruse’s interest in chemistry can be traced back to before her college years.
“It actually started off when I was in high school,” Kruse said. “I took three different chemistry courses at Waterloo High School when Lisa Tiedemann was teaching there. She is now retired. She was the one who kind of inspired me to go into chemistry.”
At WHS, Kruse acted as Tiedemann’s lab assistant for multiple years and was first introduced to organic chemistry – one of two subfields her current research focuses on.
“That was the first time I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we can break everything down completely and see at such a small and atomistic level how things change and what drastic changes we can make,’” she said.
It wasn’t until Kruse was preparing for her senior year of undergrad that she found she was drawn to the other subfield her project centers on – radio chemistry.
“Before my last year of undergrad at Webster University I did a ‘research experience for undergraduates’ … at the University of Iowa in the chemistry department and worked for one of my current principal investigators, Dr. Tori Forbes. I started working in radio chemistry and did a lot of work pertaining to uranium and how it interacts with the environment,” Kruse explained.
Kruse went into the research with an open mind, eager to learn more about a topic she had not previously explored in detail.
“I knew I was going to enjoy whatever I did, but I didn’t realize I was going to fall in love with it and want to continue research alongside radio chem in general,” Kruse said.
Whether it is exploring an uncharted topic or bettering existing research, Kruse encourages those interested in science to follow their curiosity.
“With anything in science, there’s always improvements that can be made,” Kruse said. “Science is an ever-changing field, and what we know today may not be what we’re teaching kids in school tomorrow. There’s a lot to be developed and we definitely don’t know everything.”