LAS VEGAS, NM — Jenna Bustos, a chemistry and biology senior at New Mexico Highlands University, has her pick of seven top doctoral chemistry programs across the country.
In January, Bustos’ letters of acceptance started rolling in from Ph.D. programs at Purdue University, Penn State University, Ohio State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Oregon State University, University of Connecticut and New Mexico State University.
“Studying chemistry is exciting for the opportunity to stretch my imagination and synthesize the materials of the future,” said Bustos, a 20-year-old Las Vegas, N.M. native. “What I enjoy most is being able to make discoveries and bring new knowledge to the field.”
Bustos will graduate in May 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a second bachelor’s degree in biology. Most science programs bypass a master’s degree in favor of a doctoral course of study.
Bustos said she chose Oregon State University for the opportunity to work in the Actinade Center of Excellence program. Oregon State also offered Bustos a Diversity Advancement Fellowship.
“What attracts me about the Actinide Center for Excellence program is that it is funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration or NNSA. The research of the ACE program is important because it helps ensure that the nation’s nuclear weapons are operational and secure.
“This doctoral experience will ultimately help me with my career goals because both Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories are NNSA labs. With my roots deep in New Mexico, I hope to utilize my anticipated Ph.D. working at either LANL or Sandia National Laboratories,” Bustos said.
Bustos said her West Las Vegas High School chemistry teacher, Erika Guaba, first inspired her to study chemistry. At the same time, Bustos was a dual-credit high school student taking chemistry courses with Highlands chemistry professor Tatiana Timofeeva.
“What captured my interest in Dr. Timofeeva’s chemistry laboratory was being able to work with the X-ray diffractometer, an instrument used to analyze the structure of crystalline material. It was an incredible research opportunity with Dr. Timofeeva. She’s a great mentor who has given me invaluable guidance. She’s also a very inspiring scientist,” Bustos said.
Bustos said her research in Timofeeva’s chemistry laboratory primarily studied metal organic frameworks (MOFs) – sponge-like materials, which can catch gases such as carbon dioxide. These MOFs can remove industrial air pollution and toxins in organisms. Bustos is listed as one of the authors on two studies published in 2019 that were conducted in Timofeeva’s laboratory.
“Jenna is an excellent student who responds well to suggestions in class and the laboratory,” Timofeeva said. “She demonstrates persistence and drive, which are necessary to be a good scientist.”
Timofeeva said Bustos is a strong doctoral candidate.
“I expect Jenna to succeed in her doctoral studies,” Timofeeva said.
Bustos honed her chemistry research skills in an internship at Ohio State University in the summer of 2019 with the Center for Emergent Materials program.
“At Ohio State, I was looking for a rapid synthesis route for a material that can be used to coat windows that regulate temperature, reducing the need for air conditioning and heating of buildings,” Bustos said.
Bustos was named a Graduate Education for Minorities Full Fellow with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which also will help fund her doctoral studies. She also received honorable mention in the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship program.
“I’m very grateful to all my chemistry and biology professors at Highlands. I’m looking forward to representing Highlands and New Mexico in my doctoral program,” Bustos said.