2022-23 Charles E. and Sue K. Young Graduate Student Fellowship Award

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Graduate student Ashley Shin (Caram group) has been selected to receive the Charles E and Sue K Young Graduate Student Fellowship Award for 2022-23.  

Since 1981, only four exceptional UCLA graduate students per year are chosen by the College Deans to receive this prestigious award which recognizes “outstanding graduate students for exemplary academic achievement, research, and service to the campus and the community.” Each awardee will receive a $10,000 fellowship. 

After completing her undergraduate studies in chemistry and computer science at Washington University in St. Louis in 2017, Ashley conducted post-baccalaureate research at Oxford University and at the University of California, San Diego with Professor Robert Continetti. She joined UCLA’s chemistry program in 2018, working with Professor Justin Caram, and quickly established herself as a leader through her passion and interest in experimental chemical physics and her dedication to science communication and outreach to underrepresented groups in physical sciences. 

“Ashley is the kind of forthright and impressive young person that I believe influences her peers and improves any environment she is put in,” Caram said. “Her inquisitiveness, curiosity and overall forthrightness make her well deserving of this award.”  

The Caram group develops and studies new materials which use quantum phenomena to process information and store energy. Ashley is working on a new project in the group where they will develop molecular structures which can act as efficient qubits for storage and computation of quantum information. The group’s unique approach involves using organic/inorganic molecules with functionalities that can store quantum mechanical spin and be addressed optically. Working with groups in atomic, molecular and optical physics, they will combine chemical diversity with sophisticated measurements and control over quantum state enabling scalable qubit materials. Ashley leads this project, interfacing with chemists, physicists, and theoreticians to create this next generation quantum device. 

“I am very lucky that Ashley has decided to join this project,” Caram said. “She has the unique combination of experience in chemical physics and sophisticated data analysis and automation (from her computer science background). Such students are extraordinarily uncommon, and are perfect for tackling a high-risk high-reward project”.  

In addition to her research activities, Ashley has also supervised multiple undergraduate and summer students, training them in coding, optics and data analysis. “Ashley is the rare student who can effectively communicate and multitask across multiple projects,” Caram said. “Scientifically Ashley is among the best graduate students I have ever interacted with, including students at MIT, Harvard and University of Chicago. Taken together, Ashley has been intimately involved in crafting five manuscripts from my young group, with one as first author”. 

Ashley was also nominated for the award by Professor William Gelbart, who was part of a group of faculty and students from the department who she recruited in the middle of the pandemic to continue their efforts to mentor Los Angeles community college students.  

“What is I believe the most singular and impressive thing about Ashley, is her commitment to outreach activities in general and to the support of community college students in particular,” Gelbart said. 

On Ashley’s initiative, the group made important contacts with UCLA’s Center for Diverse Leadership in Science (CDLS) and the Organization for Cultural Diversity in Science (OCDS), and agreed on ways to work with them in broadening the scope of the group’s operations.  By early 2021 Ashley had further extended our regular zoom meetings to include Santiago Bernal and Alfred Herrera (Assistant Director, and Director, respectively) of the UCLA Center for Community College Partnerships (CCCP).  

“It was Ashley who ran these meetings as well – with conspicuous modesty, enthusiasm, effectiveness, and charm – and it was she who took the lead in drafting proposals for obtaining seed funding for specific programs to begin bringing URM students to UCLA from community colleges for summer research programs in our labs,” Gelbart said. “Throughout all of this time I became increasingly impressed by her infectious enthusiasm and indefatigable energy: even though she clearly is sobered by the challenges involved, she is unwavering in her determination to stick with her ambitious goals, and – most extraordinarily – never seems to be discouraged.” 

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.