Graduate School News

Graduate education at the Capitol:
Students share their N.C.-focused discoveries with leaders

May 27, 2014

Graduate students from throughout the state were selected to participate in Graduate Education Day at the Capitol.

Graduate students from throughout the state were selected to participate in Graduate Education Day at the Capitol.

Graduate education contributes strongly to North Carolina's economy and the well-being of state citizens – and graduate students welcomed their recent opportunity to share their contributions with the North Carolina General Assembly.

The 2014 Graduate Education Day in the Capitol allowed selected graduate students from throughout the state to discuss their discoveries with state legislators. The North Carolina Conference of Graduate Schools hosted the Raleigh event, now in its fourth year.

Governor Pat McCrory had proclaimed May 19 through 23 as Graduate Education Week in North Carolina, and Graduate Education Day took place May 21.

Through one-on-one meetings with members of the General Assembly and their staff, and poster presentations within the Legislative Complex, students shared knowledge they were creating to help the state. They also gained a greater understanding of issues facing North Carolina's communities.

Steve Matson, dean of The Graduate School at UNC-Chapel Hill, said the students benefit greatly from their interactions with North Carolina's legislative officials.

“Our state's graduate students are intent on advancing new knowledge that helps our state, and so they are very grateful for the time our state's legislators spend with them.”

The participating students included two from UNC-Chapel Hill:

Jing Shan is a doctoral student in physics and astronomy. North Carolina is among the states with the highest lung and bronchus cancer incidence and resulting death rate. Factors in the high death rate include limitations in detecting and treating cancer at its early stage. Shan – working with Otto Zhou, Ph.D., and Jianping Lu, Ph.D., in physics, and Yueh Z. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., in radiology – has developed a next-generation imaging system to help diagnose lung cancer earlier.

Currently, the "gold standard" for imaging lung lesions is chest computed tomography (CT). Chest tomosynthesis, an emerging diagnostic X-ray imaging technique, has comparable lung cancer detection sensitivity to CT but with a much lower radiation dose and cost. Shan's research project produced a next-generation stationary chest tomosynthesis system using carbon nanotube source array. This system can significantly improve image quality and reveal hidden subtle lung tumors.

A pilot clinical trial using this prototype scanner is scheduled for later in 2014. Shan's newly developed system may help doctors diagnose lung cancer at its early stage, when it is easier and less expensive to treat, helping to save lives and reduce health costs.

Dominica Hiu Ching Wong is a doctoral student in chemistry. North Carolina is expected to become the seventh most populous state in the nation by 2030, increasing the need to find ways to decrease sources of airborne pollution. Electric vehicles represent one solution and state incentives support their use – yet safety concerns surrounding lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles may discourage some residents from making the switch. She has developed alternative electrolytes that can dramatically improve the safety of performance of lithium-ion batteries.

By using a unique class of polymers, Wong designed electrolytes that have a high thermal and chemical stability, low toxicity and low flammability. In addition, the polymers she used are compatible with existing battery electrodes and assembly protocols. These materials are significantly safer than the spontaneously combustible carbonate-based electrolytes currently found in lithium-ion batteries.

The new electrolytes can accelerate the development of safer and more efficient electric vehicles. They have the potential to lead to new jobs, enhance energy security, lessen environmental pollution and improve health for North Carolina residents.

Both Shan and Wong received The Graduate School's Graduate Education Advancement Board Impact Awards for research that is benefiting North Carolina.