Summer Centered: Junior Nguyen ’22 Sheds Light on Eco-Friendly WLEDs
This summer, the biology major is studying light emission and creating environmentally friendly lightbulbs with a former Haverford professor at Thomas Jefferson University.
Junior Nguyen ’22 and former Haverford Visiting Assistant Professor Stephen Podowitz-Thomas sure do have chemistry! This summer, thanks to support from the Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center, the biology major is working in a lab with Podowitz-Thomas, who is now a chemistry professor at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, and TJU student Amanda Pilat. Together, they are troubleshooting an integration system to measure high emissions of light from their lab-synthesized calcium zinc vanadate garnet (CZV), a type of crystal structure used as an economically friendly substitute for calcium in LEDs.
Nguyen developed a strong relationship with Podowitz-Thomas when he taught at Haverford during Nguyen’s first year. “I enjoyed the kindness and patience in his teachings [so much] that I kept in touch with him all throughout my time at Haverford,” said Nguyen. “We have worked on projects in the past, such as trying to understand how to make STEM a more inclusive environment for BIPOC students, and improving his peer-led team learning program for chemistry.” Their tight bond influenced Nguyen to reach out to Podowitz-Thomas about opportunities in a lab this summer.
Nguyen has had a curiosity for science since middle school. Although a biology major, he has enjoyed chemistry lab work and is interested in the intersections of the two fields. “I am interested in being a biochemistry student through my own methods,” said Nguyen. “I enjoy both worlds and seeing how they partner with each other.”
Each day in the lab brings new tasks to complete. Primarily, Nguyen and Pilat are working to create environmentally friendly lightbulbs that don’t require costly and damaging materials for WLEDs, or LED lights typically associated with television and cell phone LCD displays. “There are some days where I help my partner synthesize substituted calcium garnet structures for magnesium, barium, or strontium,” Nguyen explained. “Some days we continue working on troubleshooting the integration system through different filter lenses for the input beam and output spectrometer.”
The work is engaging and rewarding, and the opportunity to ask other students and professors about their research has been invaluable. Mostly, Nguyen is thankful for the change of scenery.
“My favorite part of working at Thomas Jefferson is that it feels like studying abroad,” he said. “I wasn’t able to study abroad due to COVID, but in a way, I am making my own kind of experience. I am placed in a different college environment and culture from Haverford’s, and I am reminded of the lessons I have learned from my time in the biology and chemistry labs.”
With interests that live outside the boundaries of specific scientific disciplines, the rising senior advises younger students to stay true to their academic passions.
“Remember why something interested you in the first place!” he said. “Remember your roots and reasons, I am a believer in purpose and that we should have something to look forward to everyday...I started to forget about why I wanted to be in science in the first place: understanding what I never knew before and connecting the dots in each lesson. I felt at times that the work I did and researched into were for the grades, and I started to lose sight of my interests. Having realized this and also having worked in the lab that encourages curiosity, I am invigorated to continue science to learn all that I can, even if I am a biology major in a chemistry environment.”
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ campus-supported summer work.