Kimberly Zhang, junior inductee to Phi Beta Kappa, is graduating in spring 2021. She is part of Campuswide Honors Collegium and is a fourth-year mathematics and chemistry double major specializing in applied mathematics and chemical biology at the University of California, Irvine. She has multiple attractive offers for graduate schools but is leaning towards pursuing her Ph.D.  degree in chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology starting fall, 2021.

In 2021, Kimberly was awarded an honorable mention for the NSF GREP fellowship, achieved Gates Cambridge Finalist, and accepted a Fellowship offer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Throughout her undergraduate career, Kimberly dedicated a large portion of her academic training to undergraduate research in theoretical and atmospheric chemistry. Already in her freshman year, Kimberly joined Prof. Filipp Furche’s group to work on advanced computational methods used to predict molecular properties. With the help of Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) grants she received, Kimberly worked on a joint project with Prof. John Hemminger to study the solvation effect on core electron binding energies of carboxylic acids. Kimberly presented her research in the annual UROP symposium, and at the Southern California Theoretical Chemistry Symposium as the only undergraduate presenter. She also finished her honors thesis on this project. 

Kimberly also participated in the Duke Theoretical Chemistry Summer Undergraduate Research Program during the summer of 2019, where she worked with Prof. Volker Blum on the development and testing of relativistic computational methods. She is one of the co-author on the paper titled “Quasi-four-component method with numeric atom-centered orbitals for relativistic density functional simulations of molecules and solids”, which is currently under review.

In 2020, Kimberly was selected as one of the two UCI Beckman Scholars, serving as a catalyst for initiating a collaboration between the Furche and Nizkorodov research groups to perform both experiments and theoretical simulations to study the photochemistry of oxaloacetic acid. This work has led to a 2021 published peer-reviewed paper titled “Effect of ammonium salts on the decarboxylation of oxaloacetic acid in atmospheric particles”. 

Kimberly was also a resident advisor in Middle Earth housing, and was the event writer and supervisor of the Orange County regional science Olympiad. Kimberly has been making an effort to promote diversity and inclusivity in the scientific community and has been actively raising awareness of implicit bias and microaggression. Kimberly was awarded the ACS Orange County outstanding undergraduate student award, Distinguished Anteater Award, outstanding physical science student, and UCI Jim Pitts award for her outstanding achievements in research and classes.

Kimberly is planning to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry to bridge theoretical chemistry with other sciences in order to fundamentally change our perspectives on concepts in biology, energy science, quantum mechanics, and other branches of science. She ultimately wants to become a professor, and build her own research group to not only do excellent science, but promote a more inclusive community and inspire young scientists to pursue tomorrow’s groundbreaking discoveries.

Click here to learn more about Kimberly

1)  If we ask one of your friends to describe you, what would they say?
If you asked my friends to describe me, they would probably say that I am super bubbly and I am a lot of fun to be around. They would recall the good times when I invited everyone over to my house and baked for them, when we fell a million times while skiing at Big Bear Lake, and when we took a spontaneous trip to 17-mile drive, etc. They would also say that I am very passionate about science and never stop talking about my research project when I have made progress.

2)  What life events or personal mentorships, if any, directed you to the field of study you have chosen for your future endeavors?
I want to thank my research advisors and mentors, Prof. Filipp Furche and Prof. Sergey Nizkorodov, for their tremendous amount of help and support. The projects that I have been working on with Furche group and Nizkorodov group ignited my interest in uncovering complex chemical phenomena at a subatomic level and contributing to the advancement of scientific knowledge. My experience working with them fueled my desire to further pursue my exploration of chemistry. Reflecting on my time at working with Sergey and Filipp, I am astounded by the projects that interface theory and experiments, the collaborative efforts between the two groups to conduct interdisciplinary research, and most importantly, the help and support my advisors have provided to help me tackle challenging scientific questions. Doing research has not been easy, but whenever I encounter difficulties, Sergey and Filipp always walk me through on how to resolve them. I learned so much from them over our discussions and benefited a lot from the valuable advice they gave me on diversifying my interest in research and staying passionate about science. I wish I could one day be a professor, and provide quality mentorship and guidance to my students like Sergey and Filipp do. 

3)  What was your experience like working under the tutelage of your SOP advisor?
Working with my SOP advisor, Courtney Santos, has been an amazing experience. Courtney always gave great feedback on my personal statements, research proposals, CV, and application forms. She also provided me with resources on previous successful applications, which I benefited a lot from. Courtney also sent me email reminders on a regular basis so that I never fell behind. I would say all advisors at SOP are extremely supportive and amazing and have been super invested in the success of the students.

To learn more about SOP and the resources available to high-achieving students visit our website.