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Graduate Student Highlight: Mary Kate Caucci

7 July 2021
Mary Kate Caucci

Each week, the Department of Chemistry highlights a graduate student who is doing interesting and exciting work within the department. In this installment of our highlight series, we are featuring Mary Kate Caucci, who is a first-year student in the Sinnott lab, led by Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Susan Sinnott.

Mary Kate’s work focuses on a computational investigation of fast-ion conductors through high entropy stabilized oxides. This research, which is part of the Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers, explores the crystal chemistry rules of entropy-driven phases in search of transformational advances in materials properties by integrating theory, characterization, experiment, and computation using DFT. 
Outside of the lab, she is a part of the Chemistry Graduate Student Association outreach team, which puts on science events and demonstrations for local families and children. She is also a student host and mentor for the incoming graduate students, and is hoping to get even more involved in outreach organizations and activities during the coming academic year! 
This week, we met virtually with Mary Kate to discuss her life in and outside of the lab! Please enjoy our interview with Mary Kate Caucci.

Question: How did you get interested in chemistry? 

Answer: I’ve always been interested in science and curious about everything around me. On a trip to Disney World when I was little, there was a ride in Epcot called Living with the Land that took you through a greenhouse and explained some of the research they were doing surrounding agriculture and plant growth. From that moment, I grew up wanting to be a scientist at Disney World to work with NASA growing plants in space. I realized my interest in chemistry during high school, when chemistry explained so much of the world! It was my favorite subject that year, and I wanted to keep learning more.  

Q: What inspires you as a scientist? 
I’m inspired by the collaboration and the sharing of ideas amongst scientists. I’m also inspired by the notion that everything you do in research is unique and new. Scientists have the ability to pursue the mysteries of the world, pushing boundaries, and making positive contributions to the field and to society. 

Q: Why did you decide to come to Penn State? 
I decided to come to Penn State because of the community. During my visit weekend, I felt that the department cared about its students not just as scientists but as people. I immediately wanted to be a part of the department’s family.   

Q: Where did you grow up? (Tell us a fun fact about your hometown if you want) 
I grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It’s home to the show The Office!  

Q: Do you have any pets? 
My family has a yellow Labrador named McGee, but here in State College all I have is a basil plant.  

Q: What’s your dream vacation?  
My dream vacation would be to go to Japan. I’d love to experience everything Japan has to offer, including their food, history, and so much more.  
Thanks to Mary Kate for these interesting and thoughtful answers! We hope you enjoyed this interview. Stay tuned for more graduate student highlights in the weeks to come!