Analytical Chemistry graduate Ann Lii-Rosales wins Karas Award

May 15, 2020 - by Sarah Igram

The Graduate College has awarded Dr. Ann Lii-Rosales with the Karas Award for Outstanding Dissertation. This prestigious award recognizes students with superior research in four rotating disciplinary areas: Humanities and the Fine Arts, Mathematical and Physical Sciences and Engineering, Biological Sciences, and Social Sciences.

Photo of Ann Lii-Rosales

Lii-Rosales earned a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Iowa State in 2019. Based on her doctoral studies, she co-authored 12 publications and was the first author or co-first author on eight publications. She currently works as a postdoctoral research associate in Prof. Steven George’s lab at the University of Colorado Boulder.

After arriving at Iowa State in 2014, Lii-Rosales performed research alongside Prof. Patricia Thiel, distinguished professor in the Department of Chemistry. She focused her research on metal encapsulation beneath the graphite surfaces.

“We took a known phenomenon to a new level by asking, if people can achieve bulk intercalation of metals in graphite, can we encapsulate them underneath the top layer of graphite? Can we move toward the surface and away from the bulk?” Lii-Rosales said. “Think about a stack of papers. People can put atoms in between every sheet, but we want to encapsulate atoms underneath the top sheet of paper so the atoms may still be accessible from the surface.”

Lii-Rosales also spent a year working with Prof. Yinghui Zhou, a visiting scholar from Xiamen University in China. Together, they developed a synthetic strategy to encapsulate metals beneath the graphite surface.

“After she left, I expanded and optimized the synthetic strategy to encapsulate a variety of metals. I found that the synthetic strategy and the resulting surface encapsulation was rather a general phenomenon, which was unanticipated,” Lii-Rosales said. “The research is elegant, and it opens up the possibility to manipulate atoms underneath the graphite surface, while the metals are protected from oxidation. There’s a lot of possibilities that can stem from this research, and I’m glad to open the door.”

She added that her research relates to a number of real-world applications. For example, encapsulated copper islands could serve as heat sinks to dissipate heat in microelectronic devices.

In addition to serving as her major professor, Thiel nominated Lii-Rosales for the Karas Award in February 2020.

“One of the things I want to emphasize is Ann’s remarkable creativity and sense of exploration,” Thiel wrote in her nomination letter. “She reads the literature perceptively, and often developed—quite independently from me—experimental strategies or data analysis approaches that derived creatively from concepts she found in the literature.”

Lii-Rosales said that she was honored to have been nominated for the award and is happy that Iowa State recognized her work. Now that she has completed her graduate studies, she also has advice for students working on their thesis or dissertation.

“Be organized, and have frequent communication with your PI,” she said. “Things change. The table of contents can change. The sequence of presentations can change. Keep both sides in the loop. And definitely label the experiments well. It’s little things like these that can get you a long way and help you in the long term.”

While Lii-Rosales’s dissertation is highly original work, she said that the section of it that was the most difficult to write was the acknowledgements.

“Most of the projects were published, so I had a pretty good understanding of the data. But the research was really a team effort,” she said. “I wanted to convey my appreciation to those I worked with in a concise and polished way. It was difficult to imagine not working with them anymore, so that was probably one of the most difficult parts to write about.”

Tags: awards, chemistry