FPL Researcher Dr. Nayomi Plaza Honored with HENAAC Great Minds in STEM Award

Dr. Nayomi Plaza
Materials Research Engineer
FPL, Wood, Fiber & Composites

Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) researcher Dr. Nayomi Plaza was nominated by Dr. Ken Zwick, FPL Assistant Director of Wood, Fibers and Composites Research, for the 2022 HENAAC Great Minds in STEM Award. This summer, Dr. Plaza was among the Class of 2022 GMiS professional award winners for “Most Promising Scientist – Ph.D.”

“Dr. Plaza has stood out as a committed, engaged, and brilliant scientist working to make the world more sustainable by showing how wood can reduce our dependence on greenhouse gas intensive materials like concrete, steel, and plastic. I have been particularly impressed with her scientific output, her leadership, and her commitment to a better future,” stated Zwick in Plaza’s nomination letter.

Plaza’s interest and passion for materials science began through a high school science fair project in which she studied low-cycle fatigue in aluminum alloys. She then completed her undergraduate degree from University of Puerto Rico–Mayaguez in Mechanical Engineering. In December 2017, Plaza received her PhD from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in Materials Science. 

In 2018, Plaza officially joined FPL as a Materials Research Engineer. Her research focus is creating forest products that are more durable outdoors in high-moisture environments (like in her hometown of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico) through the better understanding of nanoscale pathways. She is currently investigating the development and implementation of novel characterization techniques using x-rays, light, and neutrons to study nanostructure of wood and forest products in complex environments. 

“Although Dr. Plaza is the youngest scientist on my team, she has already distinguished herself as an extremely prolific and gifted thinker. She has written more than 20 peer-reviewed journal articles with more than 260 citations,” said Zwick about Plaza’s achievements.

Additionally, Plaza’s work has been recognized through numerous guest speaker invitations and awards, including the 2012 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, the 2015 DOE Office of Science Graduate Research Fellowship (SCGSR) and the 2018 Forest Products Society Wood Award. And as an honorary adjunct faculty member at the University of Puerto Rico–Mayaguez, Plaza conducts seminars every semester about new characterization techniques in forest products.

When asked what being nominated for the 2022 HENAAC–GMiS Award meant to her, Dr. Plaza said, “For the past 33 years, the Society of Hispanic Engineers has awarded this recognition to the top emerging talent in the country, so to be recognized by my peers as someone to watch out for—it’s incredible. And when you look back at the caliber of previous awardees, it’s incredibly humbling to have been selected.”

Plaza also explained, “Being recognized as the Most Promising Scientist is amazing. I’m very passionate about doing the basic research that will drive applied science forward, and love being active in the community doing my part fostering the next generation of scientists, it’s great to know that those efforts are also valued by my peers.”  

Finally, Zwick explained Plaza’s significance and importance as an FPL researcher and member of his team: “Dr. Plaza inspires others with her compelling vision of a better future. As we were reviewing our lab’s purpose, she suggested that we are really all working to make a sustainable future a reality.”

To see Dr. Nayomi Plaza with the entire Class of 2022 GMiS professional award winners, visit 2022 HENAAC Award Winners – Great Minds in STEM.


To find out more about the extraordinary contributions our researchers are making to the world of wood science, please visit the Forest Products Laboratory at https://www.fpl.fs.usda.gov/ 

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