Nanotech NYC and the Nanotech Alliance sits down with students, faculty and researchers from across the city to give those interested a glimpse into the local nanotechnology scene. Today we sit down with Andrew Levine, a 5th year Ph.D. student in the Chemistry Department at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).
Tell us a little bit about where you are from (hometown, what it’s like there).
I'm from a small hamlet in upstate NY in the Catskills called Cottekill. It's peaceful and rural with lots of farmland, forest, and access to awesome trails in the Catskill Mountains. People love coming up from NYC for the natural beauty, skiing, or my personal favorite, the Garlic Festival.
Where did you complete your undergraduate and any graduate degrees prior to this one?
I did my BS In Chemistry at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY. There I was on the Olympic Taekwondo Team, traveling to colleges in the North East to compete in forms and sparring. I received a Masters in Science Teaching (MST) in Chemistry at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, MA, where I carried out research on Silicon Nanowire Photovoltaics.
After completing your undergraduate degree, you taught high school science here in New York City. Tell us a bit about that experience.
It's difficult, to sum up, but in a few words, it was easily the most rewarding and challenging thing I've ever done. I worked at two NYC DOE public schools- two years at the Academy for Innovative Technology and three years at the Academy for Software Engineering, where I developed and taught different science courses including Regents Chem, AP Chem, Regents Physics, Astronomy, and a class I created called The Physics of Superheroes. I also facilitated Science Olympiads, Martial Arts Club, and Board Game Club after school.
I loved working in NYC public schools because you get to work with such a variety of students and you never know what challenges the day will bring. It's always high energy and a little chaotic working with 30+ teenagers, which honestly made It really fun. The best and most rewarding part Is watching your students walk on stage to receive their diploma knowing full well they're prepared for what's next and that you helped shape them for success. I still keep in touch with my students and they continue to make me proud.
How did you figure out you wanted to become a high school teacher prior to your current Ph.D. Program?
I knew I loved teaching science as a TA for gen chem at RPI and BC, but I was unsure about teaching high school until I started a practicum through my master’s program at BC. My host teacher was passionate about both teaching science and social justice. She really showed me that being a teacher means so much more than showing students how to solve problems. It's also about recognizing the inequity that persists in our schools as a result of race and class and how to reach more students despite socioeconomic disparity and to teach them how to be more critical of the deluge of daily Information we use to make important decisions that shape our lives and those around us.
What was your motivation for deciding to pursue a Ph.D. after entering the workforce?
I thought I found my calling with teaching, and I'm sure it'll remain a part of my life regardless of my next steps, but candidly, I was missing scientific research and the problem solving that came with It. I felt unfinished, and that I could do more.
What is your current status as a graduate student?
I am a Chemistry Ph.D. candidate, aiming to graduate in the Spring of 2021.
What group are you in and what is the group’s overall focus?
I'm in the Braunschweig Group, and we're traditionally organic chemists solving challenges in a number of areas chemically at the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC), but the group has a few main thrusts including organic solar energy harvesting (that's me), anti-zika carbohydrate receptors, synthetic mucins, and photochemical nanolithography.
What is your particular research on?
My research focuses on the structure-property relationships in organic semiconductors as a means for improving solar energy harvesting compared to bulk materials. More specifically, I synthesize molecules that assemble supramolecularly (noncovalently) into highly ordered nanostructures, use cleanroom fabrication techniques to cast them into films, and study their emergent photophysics, like charge transfer and a relatively new process called singlet fission. We hypothesize that films composed of highly ordered nanostructures will Improve energy harvesting by organizing the organic semiconductor interface at the molecular level.
Can you tell me about some potential future applications for your work?
Organic semiconductors can potentially be used for making organic solar cells and sensors. Organic solar cells are not currently as efficient as their silicon counterparts on the market, but with more development, might be cheaper to manufacture. The Solar Industry Is driven by price/watt, so It's a trade-off.
Where do you hope to take your career after the Ph.D. program?
I hope to work In Industry full-time and that my future job allows for some element of teaching. I'm currently networking and learning what "Industry" really means. Can't wait to dive in!
What do you do for fun outside of your program?
Soccer, cooking, rock-climbing, gardening, and astrophotography. I also recently self-published a cookbook during quarantine! Andy’s Cookbook, available on Amazon. It was nothing fancy, but it was very fun. I matched and donated all royalties to City Harvest, which is a food rescue organization in NYC.
If you could go back to the first day you started your graduate work and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?
You got this.