Feb. 7, 2018
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Go-getter undergrad lands second-author credential for 'hydrogen-getters' research

Maren Hunsberger, hunsberger1 [at] llnl.gov, 19254226688

It’s rare for an undergraduate science student to appear as an author on a scientific journal paper, and when they do, theirs is usually the last name on the list. However, Elizabeth Sangalang, a graduating senior studying biochemistry at California State University East Bay, has landed a second-author credential through the research she completed as a summer intern at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

For the past two summers, Sangalang has been working under Long Dinh in the Material Science Division at LLNL as a paid intern, and is now credited as second author on a journal article that made the cover of The Journal of Chemical Physics (vol. 149, issue 16). As she graduates this spring from her undergraduate program at Cal State East Bay, she’s applying to medical school and will be spending a 2018-19 gap year at LLNL, working with the same group -- but starting on a new project. Says Sangalang of her return to the Lab this coming year: "I am very excited to expose myself to new, diverse areas of material science."

The research that went into the cover-worthy journal article centers around identifying the optimal working conditions of ‘hydrogen getters’: carbon pellets that absorb free-floating hydrogen and play a key part in the function of nuclear storage systems, electronics components and more.

"The discoveries we made on the underappreciated effect of carbon-hydrogen bonds and their role in volatility during hydrogenation are unlike any other previous findings, Sangalang said. "As a research intern, I was able to prepare, conduct and analyze the experiments. My favorite part of our project was working hands-on in the laboratory, then running to my office to analyze the data as soon as the experiment was completed. It was exciting to witness the results vary unexpectedly during hydrogenation."

In an interview with East Bay Today, Dinh -- Sangalang’s mentor -- said, "I am very impressed with the speed at which Elizabeth absorbs graduate and even postdoctoral-level knowledge in physical chemistry. Elizabeth’s contributions to the findings of this project include not only hands-on experiments but also data analysis. [She] has the work ethic, research attitude and competency of a graduate student."

A member of the University Honors program, Sangalang expresses an interest in a variety of scientific topics, ranging from physical chemistry to human biology and metabolisms. "I love how all sciences intertwine with one another. My work at the Lab has helped me discover and apply in-depth research processes, which is helpful for what I intend to pursue in medicine," she said. "My mentors have imparted great lessons about the trial and error of research. Persistence, hard work and resiliency from failure have been some of the most meaningful lessons I’ve learned from the Lab."

As she looks forward to her career in medicine, Sangalang hopes to become a pediatrician or an OB-GYN. This latest accomplishment has only spurred on her passion for her work in basic research, in medicine and in her adjacent work as a volunteer in the university’s Global Medical and Dental Brigades, which travels throughout Central America setting up pop-up clinics for those in need.

"I was incredibly proud and excited to see how our work was received by the journal and the scientific community," Sangalang said. "I never imagined that I would have an opportunity to be a part of a prestigious team as an undergraduate student, let alone be a second author of a published paper. I am proud of all of the skills I’ve gained from my research at the Lab, and I can’t wait to carry these on with me throughout my career."