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Graduate Student Highlight: Lily Mawby

1 March 2021

Each week, the Department of Chemistry highlights a graduate student who is doing exciting work around the department. In this installment of our highlight series, we are featuring Lily Mawby, a fifth year student in the Lear group.

Lily studies how surface molecules affect the properties of metallic particles. She looks at how the dipole moments of different isomers of azobenzene change the electronic properties of gold nanoparticles. Lily is currently studying how silane bonds to the surface of aluminum microparticles so that bulk powder can flow better. She uses different NMR techniques to achieve the goals of both of these projects.

This week, we met virtually with Lily to discuss her life in and outside of the lab! Please enjoy our interview with Lily Mawby.

Question: How did you get interested in chemistry?

Answer: I was told once that people decide to become chemists because they either like pretty colors or want to make things go boom. I think there is a little more to enjoying the subject, but I do like pretty colors (and making things go boom in a controlled environment). But more truthfully, I got interested through great teachers. I really liked my high school chem teacher, Ms. West, and because of her I decided to take AP chem (and ended up with a different teacher). To be honest, it didn't go well, and I was discouraged. So, when I went to college, I only knew that I wanted to do science of some type. I took my first chem class, and my professor was fantastic. I think Dr. Case's teaching style, personality, and enthusiasm got me to continue pursuing my degree in the subject.
Q: What inspires you as a scientist?

A: Interesting but small discoveries, especially when they're accidental. It can be discouraging to not get any data for a while, but when you do an experiment and it tells you something unexpected I think that is very exciting. Whenever I'm discouraged that's what I try to remind myself of, especially when things aren't working. Plus, sometimes the fact that those things aren't working is actually a really neat discovery. We always think about these big exciting scientific leaps that seem to happen overnight, but I always have to remember that there was probably so much work for so many years that went into that final outcome. There are probably former grad students all over the place that can say "my little discovery helped them get to that point." 

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: I grew up in Fairfax, VA. Virginia is still my favorite state. I think it has everything! It has mountains, beaches, cities, farms, nature, rivers, and name it and you can probably find it in VA. 

Q: Do you have any hobbies?

A: I have a bullet journal; it's where I entertain my artistic side while also getting myself organized (It's basically a homemade planner). I also do some flow arts like hula hoop dancing and spinning poi. 

Q: What’s your dream vacation?
A: My answer to this changes a lot. I'd love to do a scuba diving-centered vacation, but I also really want to go back to Southeast Asia and backpack through all the countries, maybe a combination of these two!

Q: If you could have dinner with anybody (living or dead), who would it be and why? 

A: I would have dinner with both of my late grandmothers. I would want to have it after I graduate so I could tell them about what I've accomplished and that I'm the first Dr. Mawby. I would also ask them more about their lives growing up; they were both incredibly strong independent women who left behind some big shoes to fill. We would eat schnitzel, spaetzle, and other German culinary staples. 

Thanks to Lily for these excellent and thoughtful answers! We hope you enjoyed this interview. Stay tuned for more graduate student highlights in the weeks to come!