Over the past 21 years, I have moved over ten times across eight different states
within the U.S. In order to adapt, I developed a fluid-like lifestyle that required me to
adjust to new surroundings and try new activities. In particular, I came to enjoy outdoor
sports, such as swimming, with people I met. Therefore, I spent a substantial amount of
time outside, which cultivated my appreciation for the natural habitats around me and an
understanding of just how fragile the environment is. Driven to protect natural resources,
especially clean water, I will pursue scientific research and establish a career in
environmental engineering and academia.
In 2012, I engaged in my first independent research project to investigate the
viability of coffee and tea leaves as eco-friendly methods of mitigating chromium
pollution in under-developed countries. Methodically searching for solutions, I dissected
countless technical papers and other literary resources, learned techniques for data
collection and analysis, and familiarized myself with the proper handling of chemicals
and equipment, including spectrophotometry. Upon completion, I published my findings
in Chemical Science Journal and the Universal Journal of Engineering Sciences.
In 2014, I presented my findings at the 248th ACS National Meeting held in San
Francisco, CA, and I had the opportunity to explore what other researchers were studying
within environmental research. Inspired and eager to delve into a new project, I joined
Professor Ngai Yin Yip’s group at Columbia University in 2015. My research focus
involves examining membrane-based processes for water purification and methods for
their performance enhancement.
Being a part of the Yip group has been a very unique and formative experience. I
was initially the first and only undergraduate, essentially beginning from scratch. During
the first eighteen months, I independently designed, developed, and built the lab reverse
osmosis experimental setup. This system can test multiple membranes under various
experimental conditions to gauge their performance.
Completion of the system solidified my understanding of the interdisciplinary
perspective of research, as it incorporated mechanical, chemical, physical, and computer
programming aspects. To craft membrane cells, I spent time at Yale University and the
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, where I gained experience with machine shop
operation, including CNC milling. Design and control of flow, pressure, and temperature
parameters required me to reach out to the physics and chemical engineering departments
for assistance, especially with mass transport and thermodynamics. Also, I taught myself
basic programming with WinWedge and Labview to write code that facilitates faster data
collection, as one experiment yields thousands of flow measurements. Integration of
these components was not only necessary for system development, but also boosted my
confidence to dive into any task, even if I lack prior knowledge. Invigorated, I have taken
a variety of courses, including those at the graduate level, that I found interesting and
relevant to my project. I used this experience as a jumping-off point for a project proposal
to start immediately afterwards. My efforts while attending Columbia University earned
me the distinction of being awarded the Class of 1950 Scholarship and the Dean’s List
Award every semester.
Motivated and delighted with witnessing the growth of our lab, I continued
working with Professor Yip after being awarded the Columbia University Dean’s Office
Fund in 2017. For my project, I investigated the transport mechanisms governing the
performance of reverse osmosis and nanofiltration membranes. No theoretical foundation exists to fully explain these mechanisms, which is crucial to identify candidates for nextgeneration
membrane materials. Specifically, I studied the effects of ionic solutes on
solute/solvent transport. To do this, I built and finalized my own experimental protocol,
using calibration curves and conductivity measurements, and am currently expanding the
scope to include chemically modified membranes. My work in progress will eventually
lead to a first-author publication in a relevant journal, such as Desalination.
After numerous trials, I am more persistent with research as I aim to transform
theoretical intuition into modern application with effective heuristics. However, what I
have learned in the Yip lab extends beyond my ability to craft ideas, design and perform
experiments, and analyze data. As the first undergraduate, I have ascertained a thorough
understanding of the processes of a research setting outside the face value of publications
and presentations. I have managed lab organization, set up multiple journal clubs and
meetings, and helped organize guest seminars for the environmental department. Most
importantly, as new members join, I view it as my responsibility to help them adjust.
Grateful for the assistance I received in the past, it is only right that I give back. I have
been involved with a secondary project in our lab centering on the application of silicon
oxide nanofilms on membrane polymers as a possible protective layer against fouling.
Also, I am working with the Environmental Department to assist them with developing
their own reverse osmosis setup, which will be utilized in the future for a lab course.
Collaboration is a core value for any researcher and one to which I hold strongly.
My decision to continue academic research is the culmination of my experiences
to date. My discipline to persevere despite failure is derived from my realization that
research is very much ‘fluid’ in a manner that parallels my upbringing. Scientists and
engineers focus on issues too complex to obtain clear-cut, definitive answers. They must
adapt themselves and blend seamlessly with one another across many fields outside their
expertise to establish the most comprehensive, interdisciplinary perspective.
I want to continue honing my skills and developing this broad perspective at Yale
University. The Environmental Engineering program here is more appealing to me than
at other institutions because its focus and community aligns best with my goals. I am
most intrigued by Professor Jaehong Kim’s project on self-healing membranes, given the
promise, yet fragility, of membrane technology. If admitted, I hope to work with him on
this project. Simultaneously, the smaller, close-knit community will allow me to not only
learn as much as possible from other individuals (both professors and students), but also
communicate my own ideas and thoughts more directly. I am eager to delve into more
detail regarding my academic interests and expose myself to new methods of problemsolving.
Finally, my aim is to utilize my PhD as a researcher and instructor in academia,
ready to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. I was fortunate to receive
strong mentorship from my professors, so I want to build within other people the same
sense of drive and enjoyment I have with water and our environment. Yale University’s
Environmental Engineering program will equip me with a strong background for
obtaining this objective. I firmly believe I am fully prepared for the PhD position, and it
is my sincere hope you will give my application a favorable consideration.