When Tara Mahendrarajah visited UMass Amherst as a high school senior, she knew immediately that it was the right choice: “UMass has such a wide array of majors and academic opportunities," she says. "It’s really invested in the sciences and in developing careers."
Tara, a microbiology major and Commonwealth Honors College student, took advantage of all that the university has to offer. One of 275 students nationwide to receive the annual prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, she was also one of about 30 chosen to be on the Dean’s Student Leadership Committee, a member and ambassador of the Biology Talent Advancement Program, and a Resident Advisor. The summer of her junior year she interned at Harvard Forest, the research forest in Petersham, Mass.
For several years, Tara worked with microbiology professor Jeffrey Blanchard and his research group to learn anaerobic techniques, high performance liquid chromatography methods for analyzing products, and electron microscopy to examine microbes that can synthesize ethanol. Her research contributed to a broader understanding of biofuel production and carbon cycling, which could lead to new technologies that will increase renewable resources and decrease the environmental impact that results from current biofuels generation.
Tara finds science gratifying because, she says, “you can ask any question, and you can answer it if you’re committed to your research.” She’s committed to working on biofuels research. “I hope to help preserve the natural environment for future generations,” she says.
Tara plans to earn a PhD in microbiology and biochemistry and continue her research on environmental microbiology, with emphasis on clean energy alternatives. "I plan to conduct research to contribute to the development of cost-efficient renewable energy sources," she says. "I hope to work for the Department of Energy, supervising a research laboratory in combination with teaching at the university level."