Writer: Tiffany Acosta
As a young boy, Joshua Gomez always dreamed of being a scientist. Watching programs on the Discovery Channel about Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison fueled his drive. As an undergraduate student, the El Paso, Texas, native is making that dream a reality at New Mexico State University.
“I’ve always wanted to discover something, invent something, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” said Gomez, who is a New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation student.
Gomez believed he would major in chemistry, but a conversation with a Montwood High School teacher sparked a new idea.
“My high school chemistry teacher told me about chemical engineering and what they do, and I thought it sounded really interesting,” he said. “I went for it in my first semester at NMSU, and I fell in love with chemical engineering.”
And in less than two years at NMSU, Gomez is assisting with research projects. In spring 2014, Gomez began working with Shuguang Deng, chemical engineering professor, and Erin Ward, with the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute, on a project to develop a filter that removes arsenic and fluoride from the water in Palomas, Mexico.
“Not only did we develop this filter, but we showed teachers and community members how to make the filter themselves and acquire the materials, and that way they can maintain it so when we are gone, the project doesn’t just end. They are continuing to work on it,” Gomez said.
Though Gomez was a freshman at the beginning of the project, Deng wasn’t apprehensive about his youth.
“He has a strong motivation,” Deng noted. “I think that’s very rare at such a young age, and he’s very determined. I think he has the ambition to publish a journal paper based on his research. As an undergraduate student, that’s not very easy, because he will be the main author.”
Gomez already has experience sharing the water filter project with a wide audience as he presented at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers annual meeting in November 2014 in Atlanta.
While Gomez mentioned he couldn’t have imagined working on a research project in his first year at NMSU, the results were gratifying.
“Seeing your work transcend and affect a whole community, it’s really motivating that you can have that effect on people,” Gomez said. “After seeing that, that’s what I want to strive for continuously.”
En route to helping to create a successful water filter, Gomez said he learned many things including how beneficial interdisciplinary efforts can be.
“The lab work was pretty tough, because I had to prove the filter did work,” Gomez said. “It was a lot of man-hours in the lab by myself working. It was a lot of trial and error.”
Currently, Gomez is in the lab working on two new projects. He is working on developing activated carbon from algae for arsenic and fluoride absorption, which is related to the project in Palomas. Additionally, Gomez received an award from the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium to develop a carbon filter to purify the water for astronauts on the International Space Station.
Gomez, who is scheduled to graduate in May 2017, says he would like to continue to research water and attend graduate school.