Grad Student Spotlight: Hansol Lee

Hansol Lee

Hansol was born in South Korea and moved with his family to Chicago at the age of eleven. Inspired by an excellent high school chemistry teacher, he achieved his undergraduate degree in chemistry at Loyola University Chicago. While taking a physical chemistry course there, Hansol learned to appreciate the beauty in chemistry’s ability to help us understand the world, and he gained an appetite for research. During his undergraduate studies, Hansol participated in a project to crystalize proteins related to cystic fibrosis in order to understand their structures.

Hansol is now a member of the Tivanski group and has a research position with the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment (CAICE), which is funded through the National Science Foundation. He is using atomic force microscopy (AFM) to examine submicron-sized particles in sea spray aerosols and study their effects on climate and the chemistry of the atmosphere.

As of now, not much is understood about the effects of these aerosols on our climate. What we know is that these particles can serve as “seeds” for condensation, leading to the formation of clouds. However, under varying temperature conditions, only about one in a million of these particles ultimately forms an ice particle that grows into a cloud. Hansol is hoping to identify what is unique about the “seed” aerosols and quantify their properties. This will lead not only to an improved theoretical understanding of the cloud formation process, but may ultimately lead to practical applications in global engineering of the atmosphere to correct climate change. The cooling effects of clouds enable life to thrive on our planet, and harnessing that power could offer a solution to global warming.

Hansol has two paths in mind as he approaches the culmination of his studies with the University of Iowa. He says his love of research and group collaboration would be a good fit for an academic post-doctorate position. However, he is also interested in pursuing a law degree and a career as a patent lawyer. There is currently a dearth of attorneys who are educated in STEM subjects, and patent law is a great career path that many chemistry students may not have considered.

Hansol’s advice to future graduate students: the people you work with make a huge difference to your success and your satisfaction in your career. Many researchers may be keen to pursue a position with a prominent or prestigious principal investigator, but Hansol advises students to make sure they learn about the personalities involved in a research team before signing on. Moreover, it’s important to ask yourself: what are some of the qualities I admire in a principal investigator, and can I see myself aspiring to become like him or her? A collegial environment like the one students enjoy here at the University of Iowa makes all the difference. He offers an example from his work in instrument engineering to perform experiments under cold conditions.  After multiple failed attempts, Hansol sought help from his colleague, Jackie Wrona. Jackie invited him to her lab space to show and explain to him a cold-temperature modification she had made to her own equipment. Hansol was able to learn from her design and further modify it to his own needs and carry on with his research. He emphasizes that the University of Iowa offers a great balance between competitive research and a collaborative environment. There are many institutions and research groups where the culture may discourage the kind of assistance that Jackie offered to Hansol, who was not involved in her project or a part of her research group. Hansol encourages future researchers to seek out institutions where colleagues are encouraged to cooperate, offer assistance, and share techniques and innovations.