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Xinyi Lu: a Polymer Chemist in the Making

Lu (right) receiving award from ETS-ACS Chair-elect Heather Bass (middle) and news editor Al Hazari (left).

Lu (right) receiving award from ETS-ACS Chair-elect Heather Bass (middle) and news editor Al Hazari (left).

Xinyi Lu, a chemistry graduate student at The University of Tennessee Knoxville, recently received the Graduate Fellowship Award at the East Tennessee Section of the American Chemical Society 2016 Awards Banquet. Lu is also one of the winners at 2015 Board of Visitors Poster Competition and gave a seminar talk titled “Improving Carbon Nanotube Fibers through Crosslinking” on April 21, 2016 as part of the Department’s 501 seminar series.

Lu entered the chemistry graduate program at UT in fall 2012 and subsequently joined the Mays group to pursue a Ph.D. degree in polymer chemistry. In the past four years, Lu has grown from a student focusing on exam performances to a mature and independent researcher who’s confident to convey her research findings to a big audience. “I am proud of myself for being able to give a talk at the seminar in front of the entire department. I have always been shy and timid, and I definitely could not imagine this a few years ago.” Lu said.

Growing up in Dalian, China, Lu obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Polymer Science and Engineering from Dalian University of Technology in 2012. After joining the Mays’ group at UT, Lu was trained in the group’s traditions of glass-blowing techniques for high-vacuum anionic polymerization. Her research is focused on functionalization of carbon nanotubes and fullerenes using polymers for applications which included high-strength carbon fibers and polymer photovoltaics. She is also the current student operator of MALDI-ToF and ESI mass spectrometers in the Department.

On average, it takes 4 to 6 years for a student with a bachelor’s degree to obtain a Ph.D. in chemistry. Planning on graduating this summer, Lu defintely falls on the short end of the spectrum. “I was lucky that the project proceeded smoothly and I was offered much help from my advisors and coworkers.” Lu said. “If there was something that one could control, I would say it is the choice to focus on the area of the dissertation, but it is more of a personal choice whether to stay focused in one area and finish early, or take their time and to explore various topics through their Ph.D. course.”

Lu has thus far published seven papers including one first-authored paper submitted for Carbon. Lu attributed her academic achievements to her mentor Mays, and other colleagues in the Mays’ group. “I feel humbled because it is fortunate for me to work in Dr. Mays’ group, and I would not have received the award without Dr. Mays’ solid support.” Lu commented. “The group provided us the opportunity to meet and learn from top polymer chemists, and extensive help from our research professor Dr. Kang. I also would like to attribute this honor to Dr. Kunlun Hong and Dr. Weiyu Wang, both former Ph.D. graduates from our group, who altruistically helped less experienced students in many aspects.”

As a mentor, Jimmy Mays, professor of chemistry and ORNL Distinguished Scientist, described Lu as an “truly outstanding scholar and person.”

Lu received $1,500 from the ETS-ACS Graduate Fellowship award that she plans to put towards travel to the Materials Rsearch Society 2016 fall meeting in Boston. Close to graduation, Lu has bigger plans for her future. “I tentatively plan to work in industry on research and development after graduation. Application of polymer nanocomposites in industry has attracted wide attention recently, and I believe this area will continue to prosper in the near future.” Lu said.