Fourth-year materials science and engineering major Louie Zhong looks to the ultra-small and ultrafast to make a big impact on the world. Though he has always liked math, engineering and chemistry, Zhong explains his interest in materials science with the James Joyce quote, “In the particular is contained the universal.” Ever since a high school teacher introduced him to the quote, it’s become a way for him to think about his interest in materials, and in science in general.
“Materials research feels really impactful to me because when you look at something on a small scale, it tends to have a very large ripple effect,” he said. “It feels like something small that I can do now that will have that impact.”
As an undergraduate researcher in assistant professor Roopali Kukreja’s lab, he studies how materials behave on ultrafast timescales as short as a picosecond—one trillionth of a second. These materials can potentially be used for next-generation memory devices, so the work he’s doing can have a major impact on computing down the line.
Zhong joined Kukreja’s lab after attending a department event about undergraduate research. A presentation from a former Kukreja lab undergraduate caught his interest, so he reached out and joined the lab shortly afterwards. He’s now been in the lab for over a year and a half and it’s been a big part of his college experience.
“Research has made the experience here really worthwhile for me,” he said. “I’ve always been pretty interested in research, and I think it’s a worthwhile experience because it’s not something you can really find anywhere other than at a big university like UC Davis.”
He tries pays this forward as an undergraduate research ambassador at the Undergraduate Research Center. He talks about undergraduate research at campus events and helps other students—particularly first and second years—get started with research, connecting them with the resources they need to find opportunities, reach out to faculty and write resumes.
“The whole reason I found my lab is because of a previous upperclassman who was willing to share his experiences and reach out,” he said. “I felt the need to pay that forward and help other people have the same experience that I did.”
He also emphasizes that undergraduates of all levels can get involved in research.
“There’s a lot of pressure to hit the ground running in college, but it’s never really too late to get involved, as long as you have the time and are willing to put in the work,” he said.
Outside of class, Zhong enjoys cooking, baking, reading and listening to music. He is a member of the Davis Historical Fencing Club, which replicates fencing styles found from real historical manuals. He is also an avid Yo-yoer. Though he no longer plays competitively, he finds yo-yoing relaxing and helps him meditate during stressful times.
He plans to continue his research after graduation as he pursues his M.S. in materials science and engineering at Stanford University. He wants to stay in research and development, but is open to opportunities in industry, academia and government, as long as he keeps researching and making an impact.