In the new student spotlight series for CHEE's Engineered for Success alumni newsletter, the department profiles members of its active, engaged and high-achieving student body. In December we introduced three incredible undergraduates. CHEE Graduate Student, Margarita Acedo, in the lab

This semester, meet Margarita Acedo, a doctoral student who works with professor Kimberly Ogden.

Acedo found her inspiration for learning watching her mother raise three children – including a newborn – while finishing her high school degree.

Now Margarita is juggling an impressive set of responsibilities herself: pursuing a PhD, conducting research on both alternative energy and inclusive learning at the graduate level, and acting as co-project manager for the UA chapter of Engineers Without Borders.

"I started to work with biofuels when I was studying my undergraduate in Mexico," she said. "When I came here I really wanted to keep working in that field because you can apply your engineering knowledge in a sustainable project that contributes to our environment.

"One of my projects uses flue gas from the UA power plant as a CO2 source to grow microalgae and produce biodiesel."

She spends most of her time at the raceway pond – or paddle wheel, as she calls it – where the microalgae are cultivated.

Acedo is also producing microalgae in a closed-reactor system using holographic optical elements. With these elements, she filters in red and blue lights from the visible spectrum while collecting ultraviolet and infrared light to produce electricity. She hopes to make the entire system self-sufficient using this reclaimed energy.

Not only does her research have the potential to make large-scale impacts, but it also immediately benefits Tucson community. The paddle wheel is used as a teaching tool for high school students.

Acedo has been working in Ogden's lab since 2010, and she takes pride in the fact that she learns something new every day.

"That's the awesome part of research, you never stop learning."

One of her greatest lessons so far occurred when she came to her adviser with a hypothesis she feared would be wrong. Ogden assured her that was fine – she would learn from the experiment either way. Research is not a matter of success or failure, but rather a process of discovery.

Outside of her studies Acedo spends her time in nature or in front of the stove, cooking. She says her family is what is most important to her, and she wants to remind undergrads to "fight for your dreams and do always what you love to do!"

University of Arizona College of Engineering