Chemistry student enjoys 'making invisible things tangible'

Chemistry major Cathy Ly ‘19 is spending her summer in Ithaca doing research at Cornell, thanks to the J. Emory Morris Fellowship she received from the chemistry department.  

“I love doing hands-on work,” said Ly, “and being able to make invisible things tangible, to discover what isn’t immediately apparent to human eyes.” She’s interested in chemistry’s applications to astronomy and material science.

Ly is working with Poul B. Petersen, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology, doing first order spectroscopy, which is used to study the solvation (dissolution) of different compounds and molecules in water. Ly is mostly working with bovine serum albumin and lysozyme, commonly used laboratory proteins.

Past research has shown that molecules have an impact on their local water chemistry. Ly’s research attempts to uncover how proteins operate in water and in cells. The research has potential applications in biology, medicine and other fields.

“For me a typical day in lab involves both the preparation and analysis of samples,” said Ly. “Reading through papers and literature on similar studies allows me to determine the best compounds and concentrations to use and combine.

“Sometimes something takes a completely unexpected turn. It can be baffling, frustrating, and unexpected,” said Ly. “But doing scientific research is nonetheless rewarding and necessary. There is something fulfilling about basic research and doing science for the sake of knowledge and advancement.” 

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