Yang Zhou receives fellowship
May 13, 2021
Yang Zhou is currently a PhD. candidate in the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials, CNRE, at Virginia Tech. He plans to graduate with his doctorate in the summer of 2022. Yang received previous degrees at the China University of Mining and Technology in Beijing (B.S. degree) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (M.S. in Chemical Engineering). Yang grew up in Tangshan, China and told us that his first name means “populus” in his native language – which are a genus of deciduous, flowering trees native to the northern hemisphere (including aspens, cottonwoods, and poplars).
During his first degrees, Yang researched coal pyrolysis, which is the process of heating coal without the presence of oxygen or water which prevents burning and instead transforms the coal into other gases and liquids that are less harmful to the environment when used for energy. But, Yang decided that he preferred to study renewable resources rather than fossil fuels. He told us that he “decided to pursue a Ph.D. degree after I graduated from Chinese Academy of Sciences. Luckily, our department [Virginia Tech’s Department of Sustainable Biomaterials] had an available position from Spring 2018. The department named "sustainable biomaterials" and located in a tree-friendly city was very attractive to me.”
Yang told us that one of the most unexpected, yet interesting, things about being a student here is that “The ubiquitous specimens of animals and plants are fascinating. The specimens are not only in the museum hidden away inside Cheatham Hall, but also in offices and corridors of the building.” He also went on to tell us about his favorite classes. “In the first semester I arrived at Blacksburg, I registered for Dr. Edgar’s Advanced Polysaccharide Chemistry. Dr. Edgar introduced various polysaccharides and their common chemical modifications. The PowerPoint slides of this course had rich content and they are like Wikipedia in a specialized field. The course Wood Material Science aroused my interest in wood science. Dr. Zink-Sharp led us to do many amusing anatomy experiments, such as distinguish softwood and hardwood using a microscope. Dr. Roman introduced the structure, components, and composition of wood from a chemical point of view. Dr. Loferski showed us how to test the mechanical properties of wood. This course made me more in awe of nature, and more passionate about my research in biomaterials.”
Yang has just received the David W Francis & Lillian Francis Research Fellowship. This scholarship fund was established to provide Ph.D. students in their last year of study with “funding for research that emphasizes longer, safer, and healthier lives.” Yang was nominated for this fellowship due to his research into the synthesis of new, cellulose-based, drug-delivery systems. He described this as his favorite research project and explained that “Most new drug candidates don’t dissolve in water, contributing to expensive failures of new drugs, and the enormous average cost of development of new drugs (near $3 billion). Amorphous solid dispersion polymers can enhance oral drug delivery effectively. Drug dispersed in a properly designed polymer matrix enhances permeation from GI tract to bloodstream compared to untreated hydrophobic, crystalline drug. This research aims to find highly promising polymers for amorphous solid dispersions, which will make the drug reach the patients better, reduce drug cost, and keep pill size manageable for patients.”
When asked about his future plans, Yang said that he “plans to be a postdoc in related research areas after I graduate from Virginia Tech. Doing research closely related to the industry will be ideal” and his advice to future students is to “discover all the new opportunities that they can and embrace all new things!”