Lisa Zhang is a senior at Providence High School in Charlotte, NC. At 17 years of age, she loves art, drawing (pencil) and painting (watercolors and acrylics) during her free time. She is also on the staff of her school’s literary arts magazine, previously as the art editor last year and taking on the role of design editor during her senior year.
In her early years, she was unsure of what career paths might interest her. She remembers dismissing STEM as an option, thinking that science was too complicated and believing that she was not very good at mathematics. However, as the daughter of an electrical engineering professor at UNC Charlotte, a mother who studied biology, and a sister who is studying physics, she encountered many scientists and engineers in the course of her life. Looking back she feels that her interest developed gradually as she learned more about what “scientists do”. Finally during winter break of her freshman year, she decided that she wanted to see what doing research was like. Lisa followed a graduate student around and saw what they did in the lab. Inspired by this experience, she started doing research in the lab at UNC-Charlotte the following summer. This research led to her first science and engineering fair project.
This project was presented during her sophomore year. The title of the project was Synthesis and Characterization of Si(bzimpy)2 Analogs for Application in Organic Light Emitting Diodes, which focused on synthesizing silicon based molecules used as organic semiconductors for light emitting diodes. Lisa explained that these are generally used in electronics like televisions and computer screens. In her research Lisa was trying to understand whether new, silicon based molecules could be effective. In order to make a comparison, Lisa made 3 different analogs & compared them to the original to see which one was most stable & efficient. This project was classified as Chemistry and when Lisa presented her research she received the first place award in her category at the regional fair (region 6). In addition Lisa was promoted to the NC Science and Engineering fair to compete at the state level. Unfortunately the COVID19 shutdown in March of 2020 resulted in the cancellation of the state level fair.
The shutdown and cancellation did not discourage Lisa and she continued to do research on Silicon-Based Molecules in her Junior year. This project, Rare-Earth-Free Silicon-Based Organic Molecules for Solid-State Lighting Applications, once again won first place at the regional level and was promoted to the NC Science and Engineering Fair. Fairs in the spring of 2021 were all hosted virtually (regional and state). Lisa took advantage of the virtual format to learn more about her peer’s work by attending the 2 Minutes with a Mic research share, exploring the projects on Symposium, and exploring the exhibitors’ virtual pages. Having explored the virtual exhibitions, Lisa entered the passport drawing and was awarded a scholarship to NCSSM’s Summer Accelerator Program. Due to a conflict with her summer internship, Lisa was unable to accept this scholarship and graciously forfeited it to the runner up.At the state fair Lisa recalls the judging process being “a bit nerve wracking”, but also noted that it went smoothly and that she feels it gets easier with each competition. She noted that at the state level she was asked a couple of questions that she had not yet considered and having been promoted to the International level, took this opportunity to learn the answers before moving on to the next level of competition, Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).
While Lisa was both excited and honored to be promoted to the international level, she was disappointed not to have the opportunity to fly to a face-to-face competition and meet her peer researchers in person. She feels that elements of the virtual ISEF fair exceeded her expectations, helping her to feel connected even in the virtual space. She noted specifically that the avatars and world created in Event Farm, allowed her to “see” the other researchers and to talk with them. In addition, she loved that there were games to play in the virtual world and that she was able to participate in the pin exchange. Her research project was awarded fourth place in the chemistry category which came with a $500 award. Thinking back on the awards ceremony experience Lisa noted, “While the awards ceremony was virtual, I thought that it was cool. We were virtual, but we could sit in the virtual auditorium and clap etc.”Thinking about her Science Fair participation, what stands out to Lisa is the impact of seeing all of the research projects that are being worked on by other students. She mentioned that the variety and rigor of the projects is eye opening, leaving her feeling simultaneously impressed and intimidated. Lisa also enjoys getting to meet people locally and from all over the world and remains connected with people on social media regularly. Lisa also feels that her participation has helped her to develop communication and presentation skills, noting that sharing your findings is one of the most important things in research. She feels that presenting her findings was a great challenge for her as speaking in front of strangers was not a strength when she first began and that her participation has led to great growth in this skillset.
In addition to her ongoing STEM Research, this summer Lisa completed an internship with Bank of America through the Mayor’s Youth Employment Program. At school this year Lisa will be the design editor for her school’s literary magazine. As a senior editor, Lisa will teach new students how to design and coordinate all of the layouts for the magazine. After high school, Lisa plans to attend college but is not yet sure of what career path she will pursue. She hopes to pursue a science major, possibly outside of chemistry, and also wants to continue doing research.
We asked Lisa to provide 1 piece of advice for a young person who is interested in Science or Engineering. Her response was,
“Don’t be afraid to explore a topic that you know nothing about. I had no prior knowledge of chemistry and through my research I learned a lot and found that I am really interested in it now. If I hadn’t done these projects I would not have been exposed to this area of study.”