Born in Vietnam and moving to the United States at age 8, Lani Chau was determined to use art and science for the greater good through the field of renewable energy. That journey started with experiences in physics, chemistry and the arts at Adelphi.
“The greatest scientists are artists as well.”
This famous Albert Einstein quote doesn’t just inspire Lani Chau, who graduated from Adelphi in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in physics and a minor in art and graphic design. It embodies who she is.
Born in Vietnam and moving to the United States at age 8, Chau was determined to use art and science for the greater good through the field of renewable energy. That journey started with experiences in physics, chemistry and the arts at Adelphi.
“I was drawn to physics for the ability to connect the dots about how the world works and because everything in it is logical and analytical,” she said. “But I’ve always been interested in art, and I thought, ‘I can do this. I can go into physics and find a way to bridge my inner creativity and my analytical side.'”
In 2016, Chau worked with associate professor of physics and department chair Matthew Wright, Ph.D., and his team to create a physics education video on the concept of torque. Since they wanted to make physics more accessible to all students, they landed on the novel idea of teaching the lesson through the movements of swing dancing.
“In that way, my creative attribute was able to help me think outside the box and incorporate my ideas into the math and science fields,” Chau says.
Chau created the storyboard and design for the video, and fellow student Egla Ochoa-Madrid ’17 wrote the script. They even took swing dancing lessons so they could perform in the video.
“It was fantastic,” says Dr. Wright. “The final product is currently being used for my first-year physics class. We absolutely love that video.”
It was also at Adelphi that Chau was able to do advanced work in renewable energy.
In 2017, she joined associate professor of chemistry Justyna Widera-Kalinowska, Ph.D., on her summer research program in Poland, where students worked on photovoltaics—the conversion of light into electricity—by testing a new material that can be used for photovoltaic application.
“That was an amazing experience,” Chau says. “It helped me gain a much more global perspective on energy problems, working internationally with other scientists and just learning about a new culture.”
Upon returning, the team presented their research at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research at the University of Central Oklahoma. Chau continued her research in solar energy through an internship at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, where she studied semiconductors that can be used to capture solar energy and create renewable chemical fuel.
“There are so many problems in the world related to energy issues, such as climate change and pollution, and I want to make an impact in the field,” she says. “I want to help people and help integrate renewable energy into their communities so we can improve the condition of life everywhere.”
The next step for Chau is understanding the business side of the energy industry. That’s why she enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Rochester, where she is currently studying for her Master of Science in Technical Entrepreneurship and Management (TEAM), with a concentration in energy and the environment.
She is working toward bringing renewable energy to her native land.
“When I go back to Vietnam, I have to wear a mask because the air is dirty,” Chau says. “Why is that still happening? The equator cuts right through Vietnam. There’s a lot of sunlight so there’s a huge capacity for solar energy to be harvested there.”
She is also researching entrepreneurial opportunities at New York start-ups, including one that installs tiles on the street to harvest the kinetic energy of people walking over them.
“That’s a great example of innovation happening,” Chau says. “I want to get more involved in that and possibly be an innovator myself.”
As Chau progresses in her career, she continues to look back fondly on her formative experiences at Adelphi.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for the support of the people at Adelphi,” Chau says. “I had a dream of what I wanted to do. I wanted to go into energy and I wanted to make an impact. So I sought help from my professors and they became my mentors and they were so supportive.”
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