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Young alumni spotlight: Matthew Ostrowski

This article originally appeared in the College of Engineering News

Dr. Matthew Ostrowski
Dr. Matthew Ostrowski

Dr. Matthew Ostrowski (B.S. ’12) loves connecting science to real-world problems. As a postdoctoral researcher in a University of Michigan lab, he gets to develop that connection — his research on how the gut microbiome processes xanthan gum, a common food additive, will have an impact on public health.

Ostrowski grew up in Durham, NC, and while he considered engineering programs outside of the state, ultimately, he decided to stay closer to home. “I was fortunate enough to interact with some of the engineering faculty members prior to matriculating at NC State through one of the high school engineering summer programs,” he said of his decision to attend. “For a superb engineering education with a large enough program to offer both breadth and depth in many disciplines, NC State is one of the best.”

He graduated from NC State University in 2012 as a Benjamin Franklin Scholar with a B.S. in chemical engineering and a B.S. in history.

Of his time in the College of Engineering, Ostrowski said one of his favorite memories was the senior capstone experience. “I worked with a team of other students to try to take an idea from Dr. [Robert] Kelly’s (Alcoa Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and director of NC State’s Biotechnology Program) research lab and … use our core chemical engineering training to justify assumptions and decisions about how to solve a real-world engineering problem,” he said.

This experience helped him understand how powerful teamwork can be and how complex societal and engineering problems can be broken down into manageable pieces.

After receiving his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Stanford University in 2018, Ostrowski continued to apply what he learned at NC State to his career as a researcher. Most days, he spends his time in the lab working on isolating microbes and testing the enzymes they make to carry out chemical reactions inside human bodies. He was also awarded a clinically focused fellowship, where he collaborates with physicians to try to understand the microbiome in the development and progression of inflammatory bowel disease.

His research work on how the microbiome processes xanthan gum has connections to both public health as well as numerous other consumer products and industries.

“This is the first time this process has been described and has implications for how we think about food additives and their impact on … human health,” he said. “I’m excited to connect our results to public health and how society thinks about diet and its ability to impact our health, both positively and negatively.”

Outside of work, Ostrowski enjoys soccer, playing jazz trumpet and volunteering with his wife with the Huron River Watershed Council, a local nonprofit organization. He also likes to explore the variety of outdoor adventures that Michigan has to offer, whether hiking, backpacking, road biking or paddling its lakes and rivers on a kayak trip.