Congratulations to Nicole Halaszynski (IRG1), Wilder Acuna (IRG2), and Yongchen Liu (IRG2) for receiving 2021 CHARM Graduate Student Awards for their outstanding contributions to the center. Nicole’s research focused on the ability to mimic the intricacies of nature to accomplish exact tasks is long sought after in the materials engineering community. Her findings explored ways to enhance biological entities by thoughtfully attaching synthetic counterparts at precise locations, and in doing so, creating hybrid materials capable of specified functionalities. Wilder and Yongchen were nominated for a joint award for their collaborative research and admirable contributions to educational outreach. Their research applied different treatments to GaAs substrate in order to see the influences to the Bi₂Se₃ growth over time. Both processes were done in different systems connected by ultra-high vacuum, which reduces contamination.

Nicole Halaszynski (PhD ’22, IRG1)A photo of CHARM PhD alumni Nicole Halaszynski pausing for a rest near an river during a hike.

How Nicole finds inspiration outside the lab:

When not in the lab, I try to be in nature as often as possible. I am happiest when outside on local trails enjoying the sunshine. During my time in graduate school, I have rekindled my love for running, and enjoy other outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, biking, or backpacking. I am incredibly grateful for all the beautiful Delaware state parks that are nearby for daily runs and beautiful scenery!

Nicole’s advice to students thinking about a PhD in STEM:

A photo of CHARM PhD alumni Nicole Halaszynski posing next to a peptide synthesis system.

A PhD in STEM is equal parts challenging and rewarding. I have had the good fortune of being in a very collaborative and encouraging PhD environment. When research is frustrating and experiments are not working, I can talk it out with peers who will offer scientific advice, a sympathetic ear, or oftentimes both. The best advice I could give is that a PhD does not have to be entirely alone and independent. Oftentimes talking with fellow graduate students will reignite excitement towards my research or provide insight into new ways to approach a problem. It is important to remain a part of your community and frequently interact with fellow researchers, both to aid in problem solving and to make the PhD experience more pleasant. Additional advice is to try to remain curious and excited about the research even when things are not working, and that work-life balance is important towards remaining effective while at work. But again, the ability to ask for and utilize help along the way is crucial for a successful PhD experience!

*We congratulate Nicole on an outstanding PhD defense and wish her the best as she starts a career with Merck!*

Wilder Acuna (PhD Candidate, IRG2)

Wilder on how he likes to decompress off campus:Selfie of Wilder outside with a snowy background

I like to watch TV shows, read science fiction books, go to the gym, run, practice mountain biking, and do other outdoor activities in my free time.

Wilder on how mentorship can also enrich the mentors:

Wilder in the lab working on a large instrumentIt is always enriching to interact with other people, get to know each other, and see how they think. When it came to mentoring students, the experience of helping them understand something help us to strengthen the knowledge we have in that topic. Also, the mentees will come at some opportunity with a question from the point of view that you have probably never thought of before, making you learn more about that specific topic. Nevertheless, the best thing is knowing that even in a small quantity, you contribute to helping someone to learn something new.

Yongchen Liu (PhD Candidate, IRG2)

Yongchen on finding work-life harmony:Yongchen standing on the front steps of Gore Hall

Outside the lab, reading is my favorite thing to do. It helps me to enjoy the life and prepare for future lab work. Usually novels and science fiction are my top choices.

Yongchen’s reflections on mentorship:

Yongchen posing in front of a Molecular Beam Epitaxy machine

When I see the mentee solve a problem or conduct a successful experiment, that is the time I feel I have achieved something. This is definitely my favorite moment. And if you want to give good mentorship, the most important thing is to share appropriate guidance to your mentee. Not too much, which will hinder their own thoughts, not too little that they cannot successfully do experiments.

Yongchen, Wilder, and Nicole — thanks for all you have done for CHARM and continue to do for the materials research and education community at UD!