Spotlight on Katie Wentz

If you ask Katie to describe herself she might start by saying, “I’m just an average scientist,” but her skills and talents at the bench-top and beyond indicate she is someone many people believe in. In fact, many would say she is rather special and her journey up to now provides more insight into the person she is: a scientist with the passion to inspire. In high school, Katie enjoyed math, but was not a fan of chemistry. It wasn’t until her junior year that that her interest in science, particularly physics, began. When enrolled at Benedictine College in Atchison, KS, it was hard to convince her to major in any of the sciences. That didn’t stop the department chair (and her eventual advisor) Dr. Aileen Beard from sneakily altering her class schedule then striking up a deal: Katie had to attend chemistry and biology classes, and if she didn’t enjoy them, her schedule would be readjusted. Katie took the deal and proceeded to graduate with a B.S. in Chemistry. 

Prior to graduation, the idea of graduate school was not set in stone. However, after an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) at UC Riverside, Katie decided to pursue a PhD close to friends and family at Washington University in St. Louis. She was open to a variety of research ideas to start. Then she took an NMR class in the first term with a friend who worked for Dr. Sophia Hayes, a pairing that leads us to where Katie is now. 

In the Hayes lab, Katie currently uses solid state NMR to gain a fundamental understanding of precursor materials developed within the CSMC for use as functional thin films. Her work provides invaluable structural information, thus aiding in the synthesis of the materials. 

Katie is also integrated into CSMC outreach efforts as a Hermiston Fellow for the second year in a row. The experience, as she states it, is a “test for scientists to communicate what we know” and way to “get back to basics,” both of which can prove to be difficult. However, Katie’s work in this educational element has confirmed her love for teaching, particularly in secondary education. After 10+ years of involvement with youth ministry, it is not surprising where her passion lies. She also happens to enjoy dancing. From ballet to jazz and tap early on, to swing in high school, and now to salsa - if there’s a dance out there it seems Katie’s tried it. Teaching, dancing, and learning, there is no stopping her.

Now we have another adjective to describe Katie: modest. She first gives the credit of her success to the physics teacher who discussed how science applies to life and the advisor who made an unexpected class schedule change and a PI who is a trusted mentor in addition to the friends and family who made coming home the best option. She’ll hint at her own motivations, and in time you’ll find out about her skills at communicating with students and her talent for dance. Logic leads us all to believe this all adds up to special.