Associate Professor Ying Liu and two of her doctoral students, Tiep Pham and Paola León-Plata, had an idyllic summer. They traded their busy urban campus at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) for six weeks on the Argonne prairie, where they could focus on thinking about new science. “It’s like a mini-sabbatical,” said Liu, wistful about the rare gift of uninterrupted time to think about science.

From left to right: Tiep Pham, Ying Liu, Binhua Lin, Wei Bu and Paola Leon-Plata

Liu and Pham received a Faculty and Student Team Research Award at ChemMatCARS (FaSTRAC) to study the interfacial behavior of new lipid-based drug delivery systems developed by Pham. León-Plata, whose PhD work focuses on another delivery system, joined her labmates through a Graduate Student Research Award at ChemMatCARS (GSRAC).

Asked about “Aha!” moments, all three women instantly mention beamline scientist Wei Bu’s Monday lectures on X-ray techniques. “There’s a lot of ‘Ahhh!’. We probably won’t get that just by coming here for three to four days as a general user to try to finish the measurements,” Pham said.

For Liu, the experience brings back her time as a PhD student at Princeton University. She said, “My time in my office is usually divided by my different obligations. Here at Argonne, my time is completely blocked to focus on the X-ray aspect of research, which is precious.”


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Ying Liu

Tiep Pham

Paola Léon Plata