Steinmetz Spotlight: Kate Sonntag ’22


Image provided by Kate Sonntag ’22.

Avanti Khare, Sci-Tech Editor

This week’s Steinmetz Spotlight is Kate Sonntag. She is a senior Physics major with a minor in Math from Hailey, Idaho. Her research focuses on a subset of broadly used man-made chemicals, PFAS, that have become a major environmental concern.

She writes about her project, “Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals that have become a major environmental concern. They can be found in a broad range of everyday products and pose a significant risk to the public due to their adverse health effects. They are persistent, and do not break down in the environment. My research aims to identify the presence of PFAS, specifically those in alcohol resistant aqueous film-forming foams (AR-AFFF), which are used to put out high intensity fires.”

When asked what drew her to this area of research, Sonntag writes, “I have always had an interest in the environment, and when Professor LaBrake presented me with the opportunity to work with him in the [Union College Ion Beam Analysis Laboratory (UCIBAL)] on this project, I was very much intrigued, as it was a research project in my field of study, physics, that dealt with a very real world problem of pollution, and sought to see how much damage these foams are actually doing to our environment.”

According to Sonntag, the most rewarding aspect of the research process is that “I have learned along the way, from little things like better research habits to much bigger things like understanding how the particle accelerator works and getting to run and help maintain it. It also allowed me a sneak peak into what it would be like to be an experimental physicist, as it was very hands on and an every day thing, not just once a week like a class lab.”