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Cindy Zheng

PhD Candidate in the Department of Chemistry

Cindy Zheng

I love seeing the new things that I can make. Advanced imaging techniques allow me to directly see the materials that were once just an idea in my head come to reality.”

Cindy Zheng is a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Her research focuses on building ever-more complex structures and uncovering their novel optical properties. 

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience? 

I assemble nanoparticle building blocks into intricate structures by using DNA as a kind of smart glue. These complex structures can act as "metamaterials," human-made materials which can give rise to properties not found in nature. We envision that in the future these materials could replace traditional silicon parts in microelectronic circuits. 

Tell us what inspired your research and/or work. 

Before college, I wasn't particularly interested in studying. After school, I spent most of my time watching dramas and listening to music. However, in undergrad, my chemistry professors and TAs taught so passionately that for the first time I enjoyed studying and wanted to learn more. So, I took as many classes as I could, got involved in nanoscience research, and never looked back. 

What is a mistake you have learned from in your career? 

At the beginning of my PhD, I was mostly concerned about making research progress and pushing forward my projects. If I could go back, I would focus my first two years on training my way of thinking and learning all the theories I didn't have time to study in classes. With that, research ideas and progress will come naturally as a more experienced student. 

Whom do you admire in your field and otherwise, and why? 

Besides my advisers, I admire Dr. Lee, a beamline scientist at Argonne National Lab. He is the most personable scientist I have ever met and is extremely generous with his knowledge and advice—on both science and life. 

What do you find both rewarding and challenging about your research and/or work? 

I love seeing the new things that I can make. Advanced imaging techniques allow me to directly see the materials that were once just an idea in my head come to reality. 

How do you unwind after a long day? 

Play piano or watch variety TV shows. 

What did you originally want to be when you grew up? 

Something in the creative space—a pianist or a digital designer. 

What are you most proud of in your career to date? 

I am proud that I always try to make time for teaching and mentoring younger students. I think I realized early on that no matter how hard I work, I couldn't accomplish anything without the help from my teachers and mentors. I hope to make mentoring the younger generation of scientists a priority throughout my career. 

Published: August 17, 2021 

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