Two chemistry seniors earn awards for senior honors thesis research



November 04, 2020

By Meghan Ketchie

UNC Chemistry undergraduate students, Alex Lin and Milan Patel, were recently awarded Senior Honors Thesis awards by Honors Carolina. Lin received the Honors Carolina Excellence Senior Thesis Research Award and Patel received the Sarah Steele Danhoff Undergraduate Research Award, both in the amount of $500 to support their research.  

Senior Honors Thesis projects allow students to cap their undergraduate experience by partnering with a faculty mentor to develop original research or creative work. Students who successfully defend their thesis before a faculty review panel graduate with Honors or Highest Honors. 

Alex Lin is a senior majoring in chemistry and a researcher in the Atkin GroupThe Atkin Group develops and uses techniques based on atomic-force microscopy (AFM) combined with optical spectroscopy to understand how nanoscale structure underpins functionality in molecular and inorganic semiconductors, solar cells, and biological systems. Lin is grateful for the support from his fellow lab members and his mentor, Prof. Joanna AtkinThis is the first merit award Lin has received. His grateful for the sponsorship from the Honors College and will use the award to purchase new instrumentation for his experiments 

My research is about studying the self-assembly of biological molecules. By using a specialized technique called scattering scanning near-field optical microscopy, we can spatially resolve chemical differences at the nanometer level—that’s about 1000x smaller than the width of your hair. Studying the self-assembly of these molecules with our technique can give us more information about different fields such as developing new types of materials or understanding the biological processes that occur in the body,” said Lin.  

Lin plans to pursue a career in academia as a professor so he can continue his research but also teach and mentor others. In this role, he wants to be an advocate for students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. 

“I would like to be an advocate for those who are deaf/hard-of-hearing and are interested in pursuing a career in science, as I grew up bilingual in ASL and English.” 

Milan Patel is a senior majoring in chemistry and a researcher in the Dempsey Group. The Dempsey Group strives to develop fundamental science that enables new technological advances in energy, catalysis and optoelectronics. Patel is thankful for the support that Prof. Jillian Dempsey and fellow lab members have provided to him in his own research endeavors. Patel is honored to have received this award and will use it to pursue his research to the fullest extent. 

“My research is towards the understanding of electronic structure and electron transfer kinetics in titanium dioxide thin films in the hopes of improving their efficacy as photoanodes in photoelectrosynthesis cells. These cells use sunlight to generate solar fuels, a storable and renewable form of energy that shows much promise for future energy applications. I hope that my research leads to optimization of efficiency for these cells to benefit their potential future uses,” said Patel. 

Patel holds an interest in research in chemistry and plans to study atmospheric chemistry in graduate school. His career plans include attending graduate school and pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry. 

I hope to study atmospheric chemistry and use my research as a tool towards solving environmental issues that currently face society and our planet.”