Francesca DePrima

Francesca DePrima is a UCLA senior, majoring in Environmental Science and minoring in Environmental Engineering. She recently published a paper titled, “Distribution of microplastics in soil and freshwater environments: Global analysis and framework for transport modeling” in Environmental Pollution.

Francesca currently works in Dr. Sanjay Mohanty’s lab in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering.


How did you first get involved in your research project?

When I first started the introductory course for Environmental Engineering taught by my Principal Investigator (PI) Dr. Mohanty, I had never learned about green infrastructure or its applicability. After hearing about his research on subsurface process, green infrastructure, and remediation in class, I wanted to learn more about the field and went to his office hours to talk more about his work and the opportunities for undergraduates in his lab. I was able to learn about some of the research projects in the lab, and I was particularly interested in the projects centered around studying microplastics as an emerging contaminant. I got involved in projects examining microplastics as a pollutant in stormwater biofilters and the project in which I was recently published as a co-author, a study on the global distribution of microplastics in soil and freshwater environments.


How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

My research experience has been very rewarding. When I first started at UCLA, I was amazed by all the research opportunities available to undergraduates and knew I wanted to get involved with research, even though I did not know what my own interests were until I began taking courses for my minor. From my experience in Dr. Mohanty’s lab, I have not only learned technical skills in lab work and writing scientific research papers, but have also discovered some of my research interests in stormwater remediation that I will be able to take with me to industry and throughout my career. This is particularly because the lab has a large focus on mentorship and in teaching undergraduates.


What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?

Before joining a lab, it is very important to do your research on the work of different labs in departments you are interested in. By looking at some of the publications from the PI or members of the lab, you can learn about their work and get an idea of if it fits with your interests. After finding a lab you want to work in, it is also crucial to continue to show initiative in getting involved in a research project. Additionally, while I would tell other students to find a lab conducting research on something you are interested in or passionate about, I would recommend to jump in and take advantage of the opportunities available even if you are not certain about what you are interested in researching. As an undergraduate, you may not know exactly what you are interested in when first starting research, but through persistence to get involved and gaining experience in a variety of research projects, you can learn where your own research interests lie.


What are your future career goals?

After earning my Master’s, I plan to go into industry as a water resources engineer. In particular, I want to continue working with stormwater treatment systems and technology and researching emerging contaminants. Throughout my career, I hope to implement green infrastructure and new stormwater treatment technologies to diversify our water portfolio, more effectively manage our water resources, and work to reduce inequities in access to clean water.