Débora Mroczek - University of Houston
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Débora Mroczek

Débora Mroczek

  • Degree: Physics, BS & Mathematics, BS ('20)
  • OURMA Programs: PURS, SURF
  • Major Awards and Fellowships: Goldwater, NSF-GRFP

Current Pursuits

As of 2023, I’m a Ph.D. candidate in Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I’m also a fellow at the Illinois Center for Advanced Studies of the Universe, where I study the properties of nuclear matter in extreme conditions.

Undergraduate Research Projects

PURS: Under the mentorship of Physics Professor Claudia Ratti, I investigated possible experimental signatures of a high-temperature critical point in the phase diagram of nuclear matter. Like water, nuclear matter has distinct phases depending on external conditions such as density and temperature. At very high temperatures (~10^12 K), nuclei melt into their fundamental constituents, quarks and gluon, into a phase known as the quark-gluon plasma (QGP). This transition can be detected experimentally in ultra-relativistic heavy-ion collisions. It’s been established that at low densities, the transition from nuclei to the QGP does not present a mixed phase. The goal of my work during PURS was to determine how if and how we can detect the onset of a mixed phase at higher densities, and you can read about it in the Physical Review C article we published: Phys. Rev. C 103 (2021), 034901.

SURF: During SURF, I worked for Chemistry Professor Eric Bittner using machine learning to quantify quantum entanglement at the interface of organic solar cells (OPVs). OPVs are a strong candidate to replace conventional solar cells because of their cheap cost-of-production and reduced environmental impact. Understanding the quantum phenomena at the interface of OPVs is a major aspect of improving their efficiency. You can read about our findings here: DP Mroczek, V Lankevich, ER Bittner- Faraday discussions, 2019.

Favorite Undergraduate Research Memory

SURF was the closest experience I had in undergrad to being a senior graduate researcher! A full summer dedicated to full-time research further developed the self-learning and time management skills that help me stay on track in my graduate research.

What do you value most about your undergraduate research experience?

Getting to practice my interpersonal skills in a research environment at an early stage in my career. It’s made navigating conferences, seminars, and even just meeting new colleagues on my day-to-day interactions something that feels natural and exciting, rather than confusing and intimidating.

Advice for Students Interested in Undergraduate Research

You’ll probably have to repeat the same task multiple times and that is completely normal. Contribute however you can – the point is not to do things rights the first time. It’s also important for your growth to show initiative and develop a sense of the resources around you when you (inevitably) feel stuck.