Undergraduate Student in the News

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Lauren Tan

Fourth-year chemistry undergraduate researcher and 2022 Goldwater scholar Laurie Tan (Caram group) is featured in UCLA Magazine.

From UCLA Magazine (by Jonathan Riggs):



She loves science … and elephant toothpaste

Chemistry undergraduate researcher Laurie Tan (Caram group) demonstrates how to make oobleck using corn starch and water. Photo by Stephanie Yantz

Laurie Tan’s love affair with chemistry began with Betty Crocker boxed cake mix.

“Growing up, I would bake a lot with my dad. After we mastered the box cake, we really thought we’d leveled up when we made chocolate chip cookies from the instructions on a package,” Tan says with a laugh. “I was hooked watching the transformations in the oven. Baking is literally science, even though it feels like magic.”

Although her powers are still limited by the laws of physics — at least for now — Tan’s scientific prowess borders on the supernatural. Among many distinguished honors, the fourth-year chemistry major is one of UCLA’s two recipients of a 2022 Goldwater Scholarship, a prestigious national award that supports future research leaders in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.

“As incredibly validating as it was to win — and I am so grateful to the UCLA Center for Scholarships & Scholar Enrichment for their support and guidance — I realized during the process how much progress I’ve made as a researcher,” Tan says. “I’ve been in Professor Justin Caram’s research group since I was a first-year, and it’s been one of my favorite parts of my UCLA experience.”

Fascinated by quantum science, Tan focuses her research on synthesizing semiconductor nanocrystals and understanding the mechanisms of the energy transfer.

“These materials are of interest to us because of their opto-electronic applications: they absorb and emit light in shortwave infrared, or SWIR,” Tan says. “SWIR cameras can see through smoke and fog, so they have applications for detecting forest fires and improving plane cameras. The SWIR region of light is relatively underutilized — there are applications for solar cells and more that we’re still discovering.”

A leader outside of the lab as well, Tan is president of UCLA’s Student Members of the American Chemical Society, where she discovered her love of teaching. Whether it’s in person or online due to the pandemic, Tan always looks forward to leading demonstrations for kids of all ages at UCLA’s free “science fair for all,” Exploring Your Universe, where she uses fantastical experiments to teach key principles.

There’s “oobleck” (pictured here, literally out of a Dr. Seuss book), made by mixing cornstarch and water, which serves as a gooey example of a non-Newtonian fluid, behaving as both a liquid and a solid. And, of course, “elephant toothpaste,” where a combination of hydrogen peroxide, yeast, warm water and dish soap results in a dramatic exothermic reaction that creates a pachyderm-sized eruption of foaming bubbles.

“I love every chance we get to chat with kids about science and feed their curiosity, because chemistry is the coolest. It’s wild to think that everything around us — and everything within us, too — is composed from the periodic table of elements,” Tan says. “There’s just so much to get excited about — chemistry makes me feel like a wizard.”