In rapid succession during her freshman year, Emily Song changed her major from chemistry to statistics, and from statistics to chemical engineering and economics.
“I discovered I really liked working in the laboratory. At Rice I have been able to work a lot with a grad student and with the faculty. The work with nanoparticles especially made the subject come alive for me,” said Song, a junior who works as a research assistant in the lab of Rafael Verduzco, the Louis Owen Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Rice University.
Song began working in Verduzco’s lab in summer 2014. During the academic year, she spends, on average, six hours per week in the lab. She works alongside six graduate students and five undergraduates. Over the summer, lab time often increases to eight hours per day.
Some of Song’s work involves synthesizing silica nanoparticles with various coatings in order to adjust the properties of the original particles. She has also conducted phase behavior tests to investigate surfactants and nanoparticles at middle phase, using such variables as high salinity and high temperatures.
“Professor Verduzco spends a lot of time with us. He’s a very careful person. His explanations are very detailed. He shows you exactly what to do and how to do it. He’s very patient,” Song said.
One of the chief research goals of the Verduzco laboratory is to take advantage of self-assembly in polymeric materials so they can be used in such applications as organic solar cells, engineering surface properties, and drug encapsulation and delivery.
Block copolymers can be used to control material properties down to the nanoscale.
“We are using synthesis techniques and nanoscale characterization tools, including small-angle x-ray scattering, which gives us structural information in polymer thin films and powders,” Song said.In addition to her studies and lab work, Song, a native of Shenzhen, China, works as an office assistant in the Center for Digital Learning and Scholarship. She is also director of the New Student Care Program for the Rice Chinese International Student Association, and co-founder, publicity chair and secretary of LinkedInternationals Rice, an organization that pairs students with mentors.
Song hopes eventually to work in the oil and gas industry. “In the laboratory, I am getting the experience I need to get a good job. There is much emphasis on not just the textbooks and classroom lectures but on doing real work,” she said.