Let’s Get Down to Business, to Defeat… Senior Year?


Graduate school applications are approaching…must…survive.

This is definitely how I’m feeling currently. I’m in the calm before the storm (which is funny cause it’s raining  in Riverside, CA where I am). But before I discuss the storm, let’s talk about how nice things are right now!

I have to say summer research is the best. Not that research during the school year is bad (it’s just as awesome all year-round, trust me), but its hard to enjoy the cutting edge science as much when you’re stressed about classes, midterms, grades, projects, and all the other responsibilities that come during the academic year (which again, are really awesome but when put together all at once can be a bit overwhelming).

Anyway, this summer I’m conducting research as a part of the Yin Group at UC Riverside! This is my second summer as a part of the UC LEADS Program, and it’s been great! I am working on some really cool research, which I won’t get into too much but in short: I am working on a materials system that changes color upon stretching or when under mechanical stress. Yeah, materials chemistry is basically magic. It’s been a really cool project and I hope that I am able to finish it before I leave! I’ve also been working very independently this summer, which has been nice to help me prepare for (*crosses fingers*) graduate school. Though it also means that when there’s an issue that arises, I am solely in charge of finding the solution, which is pretty crazy!

As for the program, I’ve loved all the people I’ve been able to meet! Many of the other undergraduate researchers here are from UCR, but a good number of students like me who are from other institutions. I’ve been able to do some pretty fun stuff outside of research, last Wednesday I even went Salsa dancing with a group of friends from the program. Overall it’s amazing. And I won’t forget to mention the apartment and meal plan that my internship pays for (in essence, I feel super spoiled).

And after this amazing program, I will be one of the Resident Assistants for the Summer Institute of Mathematics and Science (SIMS)! I’m incredibly excited for this, we have an outstanding group of scholars this year and I really want to do my best to help them feel prepared for UCSB, STEM, research, the whole shebang. I’m stoked to meet them and I’m hoping I can really impact them positively as one of the RAs. I seriously cannot communicate my enthusiasm, SIMS!

And then I’ll have a short break before…SENIOR YEAR.

Senior Year

That means on top of classes, there will be:

  • SACNAS and oSTEM Co-Chairing and Co-Presidenting, respectively
  • oSTEM Conferencing in Pittsburgh, PA
  • Undergraduate Researching AWESOME SCIENCE
  • Potential Graduate School Previewing (let’s hope so on this one)
  • Fellowship Applying (NSF, yay!)



Honestly, I’m pretty scared. But I also feel really fortunate, I’m happy that I’ve made it this far and I’ve had so many spectacular opportunities on the way. I’m looking forward to it all, even the graduate school applications will be really exciting. It’s going to be a busy year, but an exciting one. I’ll be working hard, but it’s going to be awesome, I’m essentially preparing for a new chapter of my life. More than that, it’s all towards my overall goal: I want to make a difference in the world, and I can do a great job at that with my passion for science and engineering.

Wish me luck, cheers!



Surface Plasmons and an Awesome Group

I thought I should discuss surface plasmons a bit because they are a part of our research and just plain cool. So get pumped, it’s time for surface plasmons! Let’s start with the basics. We know surface plasmon resonance is an effect that has to do with light but what exactly is light?

Light is a wave (don’t forget there’s some particle duality too, but I won’t focus on that) that consists of oscillating electric and magnetic fields. So what happens when visible light hits things? Like glass and water and squids? Well, many of these phenomena we see every day: the light can be transmitted through, refracted (Yay Snell!), reflected (which we observe as colors), and lots more. But what happens when we shine light onto something really small, I mean nanoscale small, and what if that something happens to be gold? Say a gold nanoparticle?

Well if the size of the gold nanoparticle is within a certain range compared to the wavelength of the light, those oscillating electric fields can induce a dipole (separation of charge) across the gold nanoparticle, like so:

The Go-To Image for explaining surface plasmon resonance in nanoparticles. Look at those electrons ride that sick wave!

This creates collective oscillations of free electrons in the metal. These oscillations are in resonance with the frequency of the light, hence why this is called surface plasmon resonance. Surface plasmon resonance occurs in other metals as well, just at different frequencies. Silver and copper nanostructures have surface plasmon frequencies within the visible light spectrum as well, while other metals will have plasmon frequencies at longer or shorter wavelengths. The frequency can also be tuned by the size and shape of the nanostructures (they don’t have to be spherical like in the picture above). As the structures become larger, longer wavelengths (like infrared) must be used to excite surface plasmons. Conversely, as smaller structures are used, shorter wavelengths must be used (like ultraviolet). However, at a certain point the structures are too small and quantum effects start to dominate, so surface plasmon resonance ceases. At this point, I have to just throw my hands up in the air, take some quantum physics classes, and let you know that “I’ll get back to you on how that works.”

These oscillating electrons now have some additional energy. We can use these energetic electrons for various purposes, including solar water splitting devices (what first attracted me to the Moskovits group), photovoltaics, and photocatalysis. I’ll save that for a future blog post but let’s bring this back into everyday life. I said that changing the size of the nanoparticles alters the plasmon frequency, so what if we place nanoparticles of different size in different solutions? Well, the nanoparticles will absorb at different frequencies because of the different plasmon frequencies, so that means the reflected visible light will differ for each solution:

Beautiful. Science.

Finally, my mentor, Jose, has been in China for the last couple of weeks (so proud of him by the way, what a boss) and today was my first day back in the lab for a while. I just wanted to add how I really missed everything at the lab the last few weeks or so, not just the research, the surface plasmons, and the frustrating field effect transistors but the people who I get to work with and around. Though I may not always understand the many accomplishments of the Moskovits group, I feel privileged to be a part of the group and contributing to the research. I can’t say enough how amazing our group is, and I’m happy to have been able to learn so much from them and work with such great people!

Look at these beautiful and talented people!

Taking Down Obstacles and Finding Inspiration… Through Chalk

PROGRESS! After months of trying to fix our probing station, it is finally working! Now I can test and characterize devices and work on getting results! Reproducible results! Thanks to Jose (my mentor), our probing station is no longer an issue (take that probing station–except I love you). I was pretty stoked when this happened; it had been awhile since I had truly tested some of our devices. This of course does not mean the next steps will be easy but at least we have conquered that monster of an obstacle.

Working hard in the cleanroom with Jose.

The next step will be looking at the photoeffects on the nanowires covered with gold nanoparticles. This will show us the plasmonic effects on the gold nanoparticles, which we can monitor under different electrical conditions of our device. Though I have already done some testing with this, I would like to do more with our devices before drawing conclusions. There is still a lot of testing to be done in the future. We have also been having some issues with our nanowire growth (why nanowires, why now?). Therefore, we may be changing the design of our devices to have a thin film instead of a nanowire covered with gold nanoparticles. It is all very exciting and I aspire to seeing this work through.

On a completely different note, this quarter I have been able to better appreciate where I am. Last quarter, though very exciting and eventful, was a bit overwhelming at times and I did not have the chance to fully embrace the science around me. This quarter I am trying much harder to take in and relish the amazement. How often do we really get to focus on that warm fuzzy feeling that science and research gives us?

The plot thickens…

My favorite has been chalkboards. I remember when I was younger looking at chalkboards and papers, even in old textbooks, at massively complex equations with symbols and mathematical notation that was another language (but really, since much of these are Greek symbols). Now I can look at much of this same notation and understand it fully. Lately this has been a small but treasured pleasure of mine. It is like a mystery that slowly unfolds as I learn more. This is pretty inspiring to me; it is a sort of reality check: I have made progress, even compared to when I first came to UCSB. 

My point is, sometimes it is nice to savor the science. Sometimes I get wrapped up with the homework and grades, tests and finals, research and organizations, oh my! Though when I really step back and look at it all, would I really choose a different place?


Texas, New York, and a Whole Lot of Queer Nerds!

If you need some incentive to do research with one of these lovely programs, here’s one:


So, as of now I have been fortunate enough to travel and present at two conferences: the 2013 SACNAS National Conference and the 2013 oSTEM National Conference. It would take me blabbering to you, stumbling on multiple sentences, speaking way too fast, and probably waving my hands in the air frequently with excitement to fully immerse you in what this is like but I’ll try to give you the gist with this post:

Off to San Antonio, Texas! And a mighty and beautiful city it was! It had been a while since I had traveled anywhere but I was so happy to go somewhere new, especially with such great people from UCSB!

Look at these gorgeous people!

If you have not already heard about SACNAS’ brilliance, let me enlighten you. SACNAS (The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) is an organization whose mission is to increase diversity in the STEM fields, particularly looking at underrepresented minority groups and low-income students. Let me clarify that they support all ethnic diversity, not just Chicano/a and Native American students and you also do not have to be underrepresented to support the cause, I am a proud Lebanese/European man and I embrace and support the mission and values of SACNAS.

My amazing mentor, Jose Navarrete, and I representing the Moskovits group in Texas

Each year, SACNAS holds a National Conference (this was their 40th) to bring students and professionals together. It’s basically awesome research and speakers, networking opportunities, tons of internship and graduate school information, and simply marvelous and diverse culture packed (and I mean PACKED.) into a 4-5 day event. It was inconceivable (INCONCEIVABLE!) the number of people at this conference; like 4000, but who’s counting? There are seminars, workshops, recruiting booths, free stuff, free food, socials, networking events, poster and oral presentations… the list goes on. A good chunk of this conference’s awesomeness is also attributed to having Jose Navarrete, my research mentor and friend, come with us from UCSB. He was and always is really supportive of everything I do, and I am glad that he enjoyed the conference. I hope that next year he will be one of the graduate student presenters, even bring back an award!

I was honored to be one of the poster presenters this year which was a phenomenal experience! This was only third poster presentation and, although I hated the poster medium initially, it is definitely growing on me. More than that, this was my first time presenting at a conference, my jaw just about hit the floor when professionals and professors approached me to hear about our research or compliment my work. I may as well have been riding rainbows…which leads me to my next conference: oSTEM 2013!

Now if you have not heard of oSTEM, please come talk to me, as this will involve the said gestures above, with probably even more enthusiasm: do be careful. oSTEM (out in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is a national organization that strives to promote and support LGBTQ (that is, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) students, professionals, and their allies in their pursuit of STEM fields. Similar to SACNAS, oSTEM aims to increase the diversity within STEM fields while simultaneously conquering issues with discrimination, oSTEM simply focuses on the LGBTQ community, which is not currently recognized or protected as a minority group. Hint hint, it is an important organization.

Mel Kanne and I started a chapter of oSTEM at UCSB last Spring Quarter, and just about flipped (cyclohexane flip status, this is real) when we found funding to go to the 2013 oSTEM National Conference in New York City, NY hosted by…

That’s right, Google. Google Headquarters, NY. oSTEM is cool.

This was oSTEM 3rd National Conference and although smaller than the SACNAS conference, equally extraordinary. As an openly gay student myself, who hopes to someday make a difference in the world with research, many of the goals of oSTEM are really close to my heart. This is essentially why I bubble with enthusiasm at even the slightest mention of oSTEM.

The oSTEM Conference was a lot more personal, which was a great contrast to the SACNAS Conference. Though I met lots of people at the SACNAS Conference, the oSTEM Conference was great because I was able to make more personal connections. I was surrounded by a bunch of queer nerds and I could not have been happier! It was so helpful to connect with other oSTEM chapters across the nation, not to mention such outstanding friends! I connected with some really great graduate students too, even a couple professors (one of whom I might try to work for this upcoming summer).

Two keynote speakers: Google and MAKE! Magazine, a Dinner with Scientists, workshops and seminars, more great food and free stuff, and just so much fun! Again I was fortunate enough to present my research, this time an oral presentation to about 40ish people. And of course, I loved the sightseeing with Mel and Nedda, one of the other officers of our chapter and a great friend of mine. It was truly an amazing conference, I cannot wait to go back to both conferences next year in Los Angeles, CA (for SACNAS) and Atlanta, GA (for oSTEM)!

And I promise that my next blog post will be more about my research, clearly my mind and heart are still in Texas and New York!

The best Co-Founder and Co-President I could ask for, Mel Kanne

So much to do with so little time!

Nanowires, nanoparticles, devices, oh my! Time has gone by so fast and I cannot believe we are already so close to the end of the summer internship. I have learned so much in such a short amount of time and, although there is still a tremendous amount for me to learn, I am thrilled to be experiencing so much!

It feels like we have accomplished so much since my last blog post! We have managed to experiment with gold nanoparticle deposition onto our nanowires (something we weren’t sure how well it would work), which was pretty awesome, I must say. Jose had me figure out and organize our procedure for the gold nanoparticle deposition. Although it was hard, it really pushed me to understand what we were doing. It is really hard to imagine all the possibilities for things to go wrong, as there are so many! Though it can be difficult sometimes, in the end I like it when Jose pushes me to figure out things on my own. I am forced to ask more questions and dwell deeper into our research, inevitably learning more.

By now we have successfully finished our devices, and just need to start testing them. This has proven to be hard. But research, just like life, would not be half as awesome if there were no challenges. Nor can I imagine a problem we could not solve with some time and effort, especially with such great minds in our lab. With that, our eventual success will only taste that much sweeter once we have reached it.

In addition to the research I have done with Jose, I have also been able to work a bit with Brian Evanko, another graduate student working as a part of the Moskovits Lab. He’s working on trying to deposit copper (I) sulfide electrochemically for use in photovoltaics. This was a nice change; particularly because there was more chemistry involved than Jose’s and my project (don’t get me wrong, I love our project to death). It was nice to again be in my element. It was also nice just to work with other people in our lab because of the variety in the research as well as the friendliness of everyone. However, I am glad to be focusing again on my project with Jose.

I cannot get over some of the things we have done. Every SEM (scanning electron microscope; look it up if you don’t know about it, it is awesome) image of ours brings me so much pride. I would have never even fathomed any of this when I was younger. I am pretty sure I thought the splinters in my fingers were the smallest things possible. This is incredible. I mean 10 nm? Amazing!

Seven weeks in and research I am not going anywhere. You are too cool, so bring it on. I cannot wait to see the outcomes of our project; every step we take is another towards knowledge. We may have a long journey ahead still but what a remarkable story.