UC LEADS Scholars

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Chemistry & Biochemistry undergraduate students Sofia Ando (Shafaat group) and Isabel Rosales (Diaconescu group) have been accepted into the prestigious UC LEADS program.

The University of California Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees (UC LEADS) program is one of the most prestigious fellowships awarded by the University of California system. Each year, this honor is awarded to up to nine UCLA upper-division undergraduate students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The program provides the students with educational experiences that prepare them to assume positions of leadership in academia, industry, government, and public service. UC LEADS scholars work closely with faculty mentors and graduate students on research projects for a two-year period and participate in activities, events, and workshops designed to help prepare them for graduate education. Professor Craig Merlic is the faculty advisor for the program.

As UC LEADS Scholars from spring 2024 through spring 2025, Sofia and Isabel will each receive a research stipend both during the academic year, and in the summer. In addition, they will receive funding for travel to scientific conferences and professional meetings and participate in weekly UC LEADS Journal Club and a leadership seminar.

About Sofia Ando

Chemistry undergraduate student Sofia Ando is currently conducting research in Professor Hannah Shafaat’s group, where she is exploring the nature of metal-substituted rubredoxin, a protein-based model for [NiFe]-hydrogenases, in an effort to elucidate the factors that contribute to its high levels of catalytic activity towards H2 evolution.  

“My interest in chemistry began in high school, where I was captivated by the hands-on experiments and the way it explained the world around me,” Ando said. “The experiments and practical applications of chemistry sparked a deep fascination in me to explore how this science can be used to address real-world problems.”

Ando also tutors with Alpha Chi Sigma, UCLA’s professional chemistry fraternity, to maximize outreach and accessibility to free tutoring resources for all students in need.  

“I am incredibly grateful to be surrounded by supportive faculty and engaging research opportunities and programs, such as UC LEADS, that give me the opportunity to pursue what I love!” Ando said. “Looking ahead, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemistry after graduation, and I am interested in utilizing my chemistry skills to address global energy challenges, hoping to create a more sustainable future.”

“The first time I met Sofia was when during our research group’s group meeting,” said mentor graduate student Henry Teptarakulkarn. “She has been interacting with the lab members and asking lots of questions. Sofia is very enthusiastic every time she asked me any science questions, especially when it is about the research project that she works on.”

“Professor Shafaat and I both agree that Sofia’s performance in the lab largely exceeds our expectations,” he said. “As a researcher, she picked up new skills very quickly and can now conduct several experiments independently. We are really glad that Sofia has joined our research group and we hope to see her success in the near future.”

About Isabel Rosales

Undergraduate student Isabel Rosales is a sophomore majoring in Biochemistry with an aspiring minor in Chicana/o and Central American Studies. She is a Research/LAEP Scholar working in Professor Paula Diaconescu’s group, focusing on the investigation of redox-switchable catalysis to form polymers. Isabel’s project specifically examines the use of a ferrocene-based aluminum metal catalyst, (salfan-H2)Al(OiPr), to polymerize monomers like epoxides and 2-phenoxymethyloxirane into useful multi-block polymers. She aims to copolymerize 2-phenoxymethyloxirane with carbon dioxide to inherit the beneficial properties of polycarbonates, such as toughness and thermal stability.

Isabel is passionate about her research, which employs metal-centered catalysts that can switch between oxidized and reduced states to form multi-block polymers exhibiting orthogonal reactivity. This innovative method allows for efficient one-pot synthesis and creates polymers with a high degree of control. Her work in this cutting-edge field has deepened her understanding of chemistry and further fueled her passion for learning.

Isabel attributes much of her success to her mentors. “I really enjoy working in Professor Diaconescu’s laboratory. She is an amazing mentor, always pushing me to put myself out there for opportunities and showing that she will support me. I also must thank my graduate student mentor Shiyun Lin for training me and answering all my questions. I look up to her a lot; I aspire to be the amazing graduate student she is.” Isabel’s journey into science was inspired by her high school chemistry teacher, whose captivating demonstrations sparked her interest in the subject. Participating in the Biomedical Sciences Enrichment Program (BISEP) during the summer of 2023 also played a crucial role in solidifying her desire to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemistry.

“As Isabel’s research mentor, I can confidently affirm that she possesses all the qualities of an outstanding researcher,” said graduate student Shiyun Lin. “Her intelligence, dedication, and energetic personality ensure her success in any endeavor she pursues. Over the past year, I have witnessed significant progress in her work, and I anticipate great achievements in her future. I am fortunate to have Isabel not only as a mentee but also as a friend.”

Outside of her research, Isabel is involved in various activities. She has been tutoring chemistry and math through Wyzant since July 2023, serves as a CARE Fellow, participates in PEERs and HAU, and enjoys hobbies such as reading, watching shows, and making bracelets. With her sights set on earning a Ph.D. in Chemistry after completing her bachelor’s degree, Isabel Rosales is committed to advancing her knowledge and making significant contributions to the scientific community.

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