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NMSU chemical engineering master’s student receives prestigious research fellowship

By engr_media | Published 12/05/2019
WRITER: Linda Fresques, (575)-646-7416,
CONTACT: Joshua Gomez, (575) 646-1214

Joshua Gomez
Joshua Gomez, a chemical engineering master’s student, received a prestigious research fellowship from the National GEM Consortium. (NMSU photo by Vladimir Avina)

From the very start of his engineering education at New Mexico State University, Joshua Gomez made the best of every opportunity that came his way. His hard work, passion for chemical engineering and research earned him a fellowship from the National GEM Consortium, tuition for his master’s degree, a stipend for other expenses, and two summers of experience conducting research at a national laboratory.

“Joshua is a model student and citizen who has worked tirelessly to build and improve the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering while pursuing his education. He is caring and helpful and will improve any institution in which he spends time. I have truly enjoyed watching him grow as a member of la Familia,” said Chemical and Materials Engineering Department Head David Rockstraw.

The El Paso native wasn’t really intending to attend NMSU, but family circumstances kept him close to home. “NMSU had chemical engineering, which is what I wanted to do since I was probably in middle school. When I came here, I just felt that family sense right away. I was staying here for my family and I had another second family that developed here and that’s what made me fall in love with NMSU.” Gomez said.

As a freshman, Gomez received Environmental Protection Agency funding through NMSU’s Water Resources Research Institute to develop a filter that removes arsenic and fluoride from the water for use in Palomas, Mexico, just an hour south of Columbus, New Mexico.

“There they have a lot of fluoride and arsenic in their water. I was in charge of that project under the guidance of my adviser, Dr. Shuguang Deng, to engineer and design a filtration system that could be put together with products that can be easily bought. I was able to make a design and teach the people in Palomas how to make this filter and where to buy the products,” said Gomez. “It was a very easy design and we gave them a lot of materials. I really hope that they are still using it.”

That experience, he said, sparked his passion in research.

Gomez then received a grant from the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, based at NMSU. His research focused on development of an activated carbon derived from algae that could replace the carbon that used on the International Space Station for water filtration. Algae is a less expensive feedstock for carbon and has a better surface structure and porosity.

Gomez took on another undergraduate research opportunity with a New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation grant. This research allowed him to combine his findings from the previous two projects.

“This project was kind of based off the Palomas water filtration system because the most expensive part of the system was activated carbon. It involved carbon and activated alumina. Activated alumina gets rid of all the fluoride and arsenic while the carbon cleans up any other contaminates. I wanted to get the best of both, so I suggested to Dr. Deng that I study how to combine these two things.” Said Gomez. “I

developed an algae carbon that was doped with iron to effectively remove arsenic from the water and I had really good results.”

Gomez graduated with a bachelor’s in 2018 and is now in his second year of the master’s program. His GEM fellowship will support his master’s degree and he has the option to extend it another five years if he wishes to pursue a doctoral degree.

The GEM Consortium, with member universities and employers, was founded in 1976 at the University of Notre Dame. The consortium’s mission is to increase the participation of underrepresented groups (African-American, American Indians and Hispanic Americans) at the master’s and doctoral levels in engineering and science. High-quality underrepresented students are matched with the needs of GEM employer members.

Currently, Gomez is working with Idaho National Laboratory conducting materials-related research. His adviser at NMSU, Dr. Meng Zhou, connected him with Dr. Dong Ding at INL. Both Zhou and Ding advised Gomez to pursue the GEM Fellowship and provided guidance and recommendations for him. INL’s GEM organizer Terrence Buck made sure the application process progressed.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity and I appreciate everybody’s help,” said Gomez. “I would not have had this opportunity without Dr. Zhou. Both he and Dr. Ding advocated a lot for me,” said Gomez. He reflected the same sentiment for all of the research experiences he has had during his academic journey at NMSU. “In talking with my peers from other schools, I discovered they don’t have the same type of relationship as I have with professors who are so supportive of opportunities.”

As an undergraduate student, Gomez worked as a laboratory manager in the Chemical and Materials Engineering Department. He also received several undergraduate scholarships.

“I am extremely grateful for the opportunities and support provided to me here at NMSU,” he said. “I can’t imagine myself being anywhere else.”