This post kicks off the first of many spotlights featuring our very own seniors in the College of Chemistry. Who are they? What are their favorite memories from their time in the College of Chemistry? Where are they headed next? From clubs to research to passion projects, I hope you enjoy learning more about the diverse faces that make up our graduating class!
Photo: Chemical Biology Senior Ariel Wang
Ariel Wang is a senior in the College of Chemistry studying Chemical Biology. She’s originally from Arcadia. Ariel is engaged in two research labs on campus—the Ting Xu lab and John Dueber lab. She serves as a Lead Chem Scholar within the Peer Tutoring center, an ACS@Berkeley Senior Advisor, a CURIE-decal research mentor, and Master Alchemist of AXS, the professional co-ed chemistry fraternity. Read on to learn more about how Berkeley has inspired her to develop and pursue her passion for organic chemistry, research, and academia.
What was the turning point for your interest in pursuing organic chemistry?
I realized I really enjoyed organic chemistry when I got to the synthesis portion of Chem 12B. I started getting a sense for puzzles and seeing lots of organic chemistry questions as intricate molecular puzzles to solve. I had a lot of fun with the subject, and this made me realize I wanted to commit to doing more chemistry in the future.
You are involved in a lot of research on campus. Can you explain more about one of your current research projects?
I’m currently doing research in two different groups, mostly in the areas of materials chemistry and metabolic engineering. One of my PIs is Professor Ting Xu in the materials science and chemistry departments. My project focuses on biodegradable plastics, and in particular polyesters, as they have labile bonds that can easily be broken. With normal biodegradable plastics, you end up with a lot of microplastics that are more crystalline than the plastic waste they started out with. These microplastics are actually worse for the environment because they are harder to break down. In our project, we were able to use random heteropolymers (RHPs), a kind of polymeric enzyme protectant and stabilizer, to put enzymes into the actual plastic itself, which allows us to break down the plastic entirely. I have been part of the lab since the summer before my freshman year, so I have enjoyed getting to see the project evolve over time.
You have clearly been involved with a lot of interdisciplinary research on campus. What have you enjoyed about this work?
It is very interesting to see the intersection of different fields, especially since the research in the Xu group is very diverse. I work with computational chemists, synthetic chemists—who are very good at making molecules—and experts who are good at developing new ways to do catalysis of a material we are making. I get to see what happens when different people with different backgrounds and training come together. The ideas that can spark from that are fascinating.
Moving forward towards grad school, what are some themes from your research at Berkeley you hope will continue?
I am planning on going into synthetic chemistry or catalysis. I like the applied nature of the fields and having a real-life, tangible application—something I can see the impact of. Applied synthetic chemistry typically is focused on research in the direction of medicine or materials. I was pre-med when I started, and with my biology background, medicine is an obvious path, but the Xu group showed me I might want to pursue materials. Materials is a big area and people usually don’t realize the impact of chemistry on this field. If you want to create a new material that has certain properties or functions, or bypasses certain weaknesses, you need to think about the chemistry, the structure-function relationship, and how you can design or make that material. I also have a deep appreciation for biology, and I believe there is a lot of inspiration we can draw from nature and this field. Regardless if I go towards medicine or materials, I think that biology is going to stay with me as well.
Where do you see yourself headed after grad school?
My current goal is to be a professor and stay in academia. It is really a special job because there are no other jobs where you can bring together research, teaching, and mentorship under one package deal. Coupled with my time tutoring as a Lead Chem Scholar, organizing events as an ACS Senior Advisor and past Education Chair, and mentoring underclassmen as part of the CURIE decal, I can see it will be an ideal career for me.
Favorite Study Spot: Definitely my lab desk—either the grad bay in Hearst Mining or at the Innovative Genomics Institute. The view downtown is great!
Favorite Class: I’ve enjoyed all the organic chemistry classes, but recently Chem 261: Organic Reactions has been my favorite.
Food Recs: On Telegraph, there’s a place called Noodle Dynasty that just opened up. I went there with friends, and the food was really good. Highly recommend the specials.
Hobbies: Hanging out with friends, exploring new food places. During COVID, I had a huge cooking and baking phase I’m trying to get back into. I think cooking and baking also go with that self-care aspect. Otherwise, I also enjoy lying in bed and watching Netflix.