Baylor Alum Named 'Rising Star' In Chemistry

  • News Photo 1061
    Dr. Julia Chan, a 1993 Baylor chemistry graduate, conducts solid state chemistry and materials science research in her lab at LSU.
  • News Photo 1079
    A superconductor molecule Chan's research group discovered in Feb. 2001
Feb. 4, 2003

by Judy Long

Baylor University chemistry graduate Julia Chan has been recognized as a rising star, not once, but twice, by two of the most renowned science organizations in the United States.

The American Chemical Society selected her as one of 12 outstanding women in the field of chemistry for 2002, while the National Science Foundation awarded her with a $500,000 NSF Career Grant. The five-year grant will support her continuing research in developing new materials for information technology.

The ACS said Chan's research is "considered influential and will have a significant impact on chemistry during this century."

The Society also commemorated the 75th year of the Women Chemists Committee (WCC), whose mission is "to be leaders in attracting, developing and promoting women in the chemical sciences." Chan conducts her research at Louisiana State University, where she is an assistant professor in the solid state chemistry and inorganic materials department. She received her doctorate at the University of California, Davis.

Chan did not begin her college career as a scientist -- she chose Baylor for its music program. She had a passion for music and especially violin, but her natural curiosity about how things work led her into scientific discovery. She was drawn to chemistry because she loved the hands-on approach of lab work instead of being restricted to a textbook.

Chan says the liberal arts education she received at Baylor was essential to her success as a researcher, where all fields of knowledge are integrated. "You have to be well-rounded and aware of other disciplines. Although I'm a materials science researcher, I write more than I work in the lab. I spend six to eight hours a day writing, editing and communicating," she said.

While a student at Baylor, Chan had Dr. Marianna Busch for a chemistry lab. "It was so beneficial to have a real professor and not a graduate student in a lab. Also, seeing Dr. Busch in her position [as chemistry department chair] served as an example to me that women could succeed in science," Chan added.

The friendly Baylor atmosphere helped Chan strengthen the social skills she puts to use in her interdisciplinary science research. "My ability to meet people has helped me to establish relationships in other science departments, and that has led to some important research, especially in cooperation with the department of physics here at LSU.

"Around my Baylor friends I was the quiet one, but in science settings, I'm more outgoing than most. I appreciate that legacy of my Baylor experience."

Chan actually came to Baylor comfortable in a wide variety of situations. Born in the melting pot of Malaysia, her family moved to another melting pot, New York City, when she was eight years old. Later, she lived in two other culturally diverse cities, New Orleans and El Paso, before coming to Baylor. She credits her rich cultural experiences as the reason she never felt like an outsider.

Chan's research in materials science -- the study of synthesis, structure and properties of new materials -- has led her, in collaboration with LSU physicists, to develop two new superconductors since arriving in Baton Rouge two years ago. Her lab work has focused on growing her own crystals and studying their complex structures with the aim to make new compounds for use in information technology.

Though her professional work has concentrated on research, Chan has never given up her love for music. "I still play in my church orchestra," she said. "My research team knows that when it's time for my orchestra practice, that's where I'll be. I never miss it. It's important to me."

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