Chemistry Student Earns NASA Scholarship

Asteria Yiu earns NASA scholarship

While she doesn’t plan on taking a trip to space anytime soon, George Fox junior chemistry major Asteria Yiu is conducting research that got the attention of the Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium, which awarded her a $5,000 scholarship for the 2017-18 school year.

Yiu was one of only 10 recipients in the state of Oregon to receive the funds, which go to undergraduate students who “demonstrate a commitment to their academic pursuit of a STEM-related degree,” according to NASA. The awardees also demonstrated how their field of study relates to the NASA vision and the activities of one or more of the NASA mission directorates.

For the past two summers, Yiu has worked with organic chemistry professor Jing Hao to research the synthesis of a thermo-responsive polymer that can be used for drug delivery, specifically anti-cancer drugs. Ultimately, Yiu plans to use her chemistry degree to pursue a career as a pharmacist.

“I originally thought I didn’t qualify, since these scholarships seemed to be geared toward engineering, math and computer science majors,” says Yiu, a native of Redmond, Washington. “Then I found out it also applies to those majoring in biology, chemistry and other sciences. So, I wrote up an essay about my academic pursuits, my research and my interest in molecular structures found in foods, vitamins and medications.”

Over the past two summers, Yiu created four different polymers that are thermo-responsive at different temperatures. Her polymers are able to form a micelle – essentially a shell that the anti-cancer drugs can be loaded into. At a specific temperature, the micelle breaks open so that the anti-cancer drugs can be delivered.

Yiu presented her research at the Murdock College Science Research Conference in Spokane, Washington, in November – an honor, she believes, that helped her resumé stand out among the NASA scholarship applicants. She will also share her findings at the American Chemical Society’s national meeting and exposition March 18-22 in New Orleans.

She credits her professors with setting her up for success. “All the professors in the chemistry department are great,” Yiu says. “I really like the small classroom sizes, and they really get to know you. I feel like George Fox prepares you well, especially when it comes to research opportunities. I was able to do research after my freshman year, which doesn’t really happen a whole lot at other schools.”