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    Rebeca Rodriguez receives Amelar & Lodge Fellowship

Rebeca "Becky" Rodriguez has received the Richard D. Amelar and Arthur S. Lodge Fellowship for Outstanding Collaborative Research in Materials for 2019-20. This award is given to a student whose research interests encompass the overlapping scope of chemistry and chemical engineering and materials science. Award winners must have demonstrated excellence in their areas of interest and a willingness to collaborate with other students and/or research groups.

Becky is advised by Professor Christy Haynes, and her research focuses on surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) detection of food contaminants with polymer affinity agents. She uses SERS to monitor vibrational changes after toxin and polymer bind. She is working with mycotoxins, toxins produced from fungus that contaminate crops such as corn, grain, and nuts. She has spent the last two years detecting aflatoxin B1, the most potent, naturally made carcinogen known to man.

Rebeca Rodriguez' research involves detecting small-molecule toxins that contaminate food.
Rebeca Rodriguez' research involves detecting small-molecule toxins that contaminate food.

More recently, she has been working to detect two different mycotoxins (ochratoxin A and deoxynivalenol) with the same polymer affinity agent. Multiplex detection with one affinity agent is an attractive approach because it minimizes the need to spend money on multiple affinity agents to verify if more thatn one toxin in present in a food matrix. Ochratoxin A (OTA) is a toxin that contaminates grain and pork products as well as wine and beer. OTA is carcinogenic and can cause neurological damage to humans. Deoxynivalenol (DON) or vomitoxin contaminates wheat, grain, and corn. It is not carcinogenic, but can cause severe dehydration and death due to vomiting. The hope is to be able to detect these toxins in food matrices that they are commonly found in. Because the polymer affinity agent is less specific, it can potentially bind to all of these toxins due to their similar structures.

Her collaborative research includes detecting small molecule food toxins with polymer affinity agents using SERS with Chemistry Professor Theresa Reineke's group; working with 3M's Food Safety Team to create a polymer-mycotoxin sensor; and working with Chemical Engineering & Materials Science professors Daniel Frisbie and Kevin Dorfman to make SERS/field-effect transistor (FET) sensors for food allergens. She will be spending her summer interning with the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, VA, researching biowarfare terror agent detection with various other spectroscopic techniques.

In addition to her research and studies, Becky is an involved graduate student and social justice advocate. She is the Women in Science & Engineering representative on the Department of Chemistry’s Diversity & Inclusion Committee. She also is a graduate student mentor through the Society of Women Engineers, public relations officer for the American Chemical Society (ACS) Division of Polymer Chemistry (POLY) and the Division of Polymeric Materials: Science and Engineering (PMSE) University of Minnesota chapter, the Department of Chemistry’s representative to the Council of Graduate Students, a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and has recently become president of the University of Minnesota's chapter of the Society of the Advancement of Chicano/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science. 

Becky is passionate about outreach and making science accessible to all people. She has been involved in doing science demonstrations for middle school and high schools girls, with young people at the West 7th Community Center in Saint Paul, and a local Boy Scout troop. She was recently awarded an ACS Mini Grant through the Local MN ACS Chapter to do science demostrations at a predominately Latinx and Black K-8th school in Minneapolis.

She earned her bachelor's degree from American University, her master's in chemistry from the University of Minnesota, and is a rising fourth-year graduate student working on her doctorate.

The Richard D. Amelar and Arthur S. Lodge Fellowship for Outstanding Collaborative Research in Materials was created by Susanna and Timothy Lodge in honor of their fathers who were accomplished scientists.