Hazleton chemical engineering major earns Multi-Campus Research Experience

A student and professor in white lab coats pouring liquid nitrogen in a lab

Trevor Ruggiero and Associate Professor of Chemistry Dan Patel pour liquid nitrogen during a recent session in the chemistry laboratory at Penn State Hazleton.

Credit: Penn State

HAZLETON, Pa. — If you ask Associate Professor of Chemistry Dan Patel about the growth he has seen in chemical engineering major Trevor Ruggiero in their three semesters of conducting undergraduate research together, Patel will say there is one quality that has really stood out. 

"He’s incredibly independent,” Patel said. “He’s functioning at the level of a first-year graduate student.” 

Ruggiero, a rising third-year student from Drums, is spending part of his summer working alongside Patel in Penn State Hazleton’s chemistry lab, continuing the research work the pair began back in the fall 2023 semester. 

After working with Patel again in the spring semester, Ruggiero was selected this summer for the highly competitive Multi-Campus Research Experience for Undergraduates (MCREU) Program through the Penn State College of Engineering. The program allows Commonwealth Campus students to conduct research during the summer months under the guidance of two Penn State faculty members — one from their home campus and another based at University Park. Students receive a stipend for their work. 

Ruggiero said he has seen the benefits of performing undergraduate research since he first began working with Patel at the beginning of the 2023-24 academic year, so he jumped at the chance to gain even more valuable knowledge during the summer. 

“It’s been a really great experience overall,” he said. “My lab experience before was with general labs, and that’s good, but in an actual research lab I’ve learned so much more because I’m constantly doing new experiments and asking myself, ‘I want to get to this complex molecule. How am I going to get there?’” 

The pair’s research has focused on the creation of photochromic diarylethenes, molecules that change shape and color using visible or infrared light instead of a higher-energy light, like ultraviolet light. 

Patel and Ruggiero are focused on two diarylethene molecules. One was successfully developed by Ruggiero, but the other is proving more difficult, illustrating one of the lessons Patel has passed on to Ruggiero. 

“You can set goals but if something doesn’t work, and often times it won’t, you need to take a step or two back and try a different approach,” Patel said. 

Patel said he has stressed to Ruggiero that not achieving a desired result does not equate to failure. In fact, it’s an important part of a much larger goal. 

“It’s not just about making a molecule,” Patel said. “It’s about what you’re learning and what you can use to move on to the next phase of your academic career.” 

Reflecting on all he has learned so far, Ruggiero encouraged other students to seek out undergraduate research. 

“There are plenty of opportunities around Penn State Hazleton to grow academically,” he said. “My best advice is to just ask a professor because they are all approachable and wanting to help us.” 

Ruggiero will transition to University Park in the fall where he said he hopes to continue conducting undergraduate research and working towards earning a job in his field after graduation.