Meet Yoko Bian: Chemistry PhD Student

Nanotech NYC sits down with students, faculty and researchers from across the city to give those interested a glimpse into the local nanotechnology scene and to highlight some of the amazing work being done in our own neighborhoods. Today we sit down with Yoko Bian, a 3rd year Chemistry PhD student in the Nanotechnology and Material Science Program at Graduate Center of CUNY.

Yoko Bian. Chemistry Graduate Student at the Graduate Center of CUNY

Tell us a little bit about where you are from.

I am from Shijiazhuang, a prefecture-level city 165 miles southwest of Beijing. A lot of times when I am asked the similar type of questions, I’d simplify it as Beijing because it would look quite embarrassing to not know what my hometown - Shijiazhuang - is famous for. So I looked it up - Shijiazhuang is the largest pharmaceutical base in China and is as well an important center in the textile, IT, manufacturing and chemical industries. I guess it makes sense now why I become a chemist.

Where did you complete your undergraduate?

I went to Centre College, a wonderful private liberal arts college located in Danville, Kentucky. I majored in Chemistry and Finance and had a typical college life there.

What group are you in and what is your particular research on?

I am in a Computational and Theoretical Chemistry group, working with Prof. Gustavo Lopez at Lehman College. The current project I am working on is related to the swelling thermodynamics ultra-thin polymeric film in quantum fluids. We hypothesize that the thermodynamically stably constructed ultra-thin polymeric system could be swollen by quantum fluids due to the nuclear quantum effects – the nature of quantum fluids. In my research, molecular computer simulations techniques will be designed and implemented to characterize molecular details of the swelling of such phase systems.

Yoko designs and implements molecular simulation techniques to characterize the swelling thermodynamics of ultra-thin polymeric films in quantum fluids.

Can you tell us about some potential future applications of your work?

When it comes to drug delivery, the controlled release of active chemicals can be achieved experimentally through various mechanisms upon the occurrence of a trigger as a response to environmental conditions, e.g. the diffusion and swelling of the permeant. However, detailed microscopic mechanisms for the swelling of fluid-polymer phase systems are still not well understood. My research project can be used to assist in understanding experimental data and explore reaction mechanisms not readily studied via experiments. In particular, it helps to envision incorporation of quantum fluids and ultra-thin polymeric films in developing fluid – polymer phase system for drug delivery and microelectronics fabrication in real world.

How did you come to realize you wanted to specialize in this particular area?

At the time when I moved to the city for my PhD, artificial intelligence (AI) was growing quickly in the technology and financial sectors, but hadn’t quite made its leap to the physical sciences, even though there have been discussions on deep learning’s role in the hard sciences, specifically, AI and the future of computational chemistry. I would love to be part of this growing community of researchers.

What’s more important, I had amazing quantum chemistry professors during both of my undergrad and PhD studies, which is (almost always) in the scope of computational chemistry. The former is the actual theory that helps with understanding molecules at the subatomic level, whereas the latter helps with making predictions through simulation and modeling, although these applications don’t have to be quantum mechanical in nature.

Because of the fact that I was also an Econ major in college, I remember taking econometrics and quantum chemistry the same semester, and I became fascinated at econometric models and wondered how things are like in the hard sciences like chemistry. I later learned the game of computational chemistry is similar in that sense - build the model, code it, run the program, compare with reality, repeat. A predictive model means a fundamental understanding of the process is obtained and thus can be used to make predictions for processes that are hard to study by experiment. Besides, it is a lot less expensive to do chemistry in silico than in vitro or in vivo.

Brainstorming event hosted by the New York Academy of Sciences (April 28th, 2017), aimed at generating potential programs to better support immigrant scientists, engineers, and students during these difficult times.

Where do you hope to take your career in the next 5 or 10 years?

Since the fields of research and intellectual property are so intertwined, I am hoping to work as a patent practitioner after my PhD lab, as I would like to see myself still on the cutting edge of R&D. As a patent practitioner, I believe I will constantly be exposed to new and exciting discoveries virtually before anyone else.

Based on your twitter feed (@YokoJBian), you seem to stay up to date on the Intellectual Property scene both in the US and China. What interests you and this? What are the major differences between IP in the US and IP in China?

My interest in the law goes back to the many debates I participated when I was a kid. For many years, ever since I moved to the U.S. from China, I forgot those childhood debates until one day the fires of that early passion were rekindled by the Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International case when I was a sophomore in college. The Alice decision met a mixed reception regarding patent eligibility, but it has profoundly affected U.S. patent law. I became interested in questioning whether these so-called software and business-methods are eligible to be granted patents and what is better for the society.

Despite the recent trade war between U.S. and its declared strategic rivals – offense and defense in the race to innovate, my long-term career goal is practice internationally while based in China. The UK, the US and Europe have long-established patent systems, whereas China’s high-growth economy does not, but is making efforts to catch up build its own system. China and the U.S. were among the top three countries in terms of the number of international PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) patents filed since 2015. China moved into the second position as a source of international patent applications filed via WIPO in 2017 and with another record year in the use of WIPO's IP services for patents, trademarks and industrial designs, the gap is closing. As of now, two Chinese tech companies were the top filers of international patent applications in 2017, with Huawei and ZTE, followed by Intel, Mitsubishi and Qualcomm. However, its purpose is not so much to protect inventors as to lend credibility to their work. Therefore, there is much left to be done and I aspire to be part of the process.

IP strategy is the cornerstone of overall business strategy. Companies in general either use patents defensively as an IP shield or aggressively as an IP sword.

Regarding the major differences between IP in the two countries, I would say that US companies are more experienced at utilizing patent portfolios for offensive purposes in protecting their business market share, whereas China is more likely to use patent portfolios for defensive purposes. The more aggressive offensive motions involves suing competitors for patent infringements and seeking injunctive relief. Alternatively, the suing party may either demand competitors paying a high royalty fee, or initiate patent litigations at courts seeking large damage awards by the judge. On the other side, a Chinese company is more likely to either negotiate patent cross-licensing agreements with other companies to gain design freedom, or to accumulate patents in one field to enter its market or use patent portfolios as IP shields to chill other companies from suing them for fear of countersuit. Although nowadays, Chinese companies are becoming strategic and proactive in leveraging their patent portfolios. I do not think it’ll be far in future till we see more and more sophisticated IP strategies being practiced by both the U.S. and China.

Know Your Rights: Legal Literacy for Scientists (July 19, 2018), hosted by 500WS and the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF) as the first legal workshop on science advocacy and activism.

You also stay active on social media promoting Women in STEM, specifically with NYC 500 WomenSci (Twitter: @500wsNYC). Tell us about those efforts.

Thanks to the focus on women in STEM from the media, we all know that women lag sadly behind men in STEM fields, and the issue is more serious than just a parity of numbers. Employers, schools and various institutions shouldn’t just be trying to ramp up their numbers of women so that they can claim equity and sit back with a smile. We care because the lack of women in STEM means we are lacking the perspectives of more or less half the world's population.

500 Women Scientists is a wonderful group of female scientists. It is to serve society by making science open, inclusive, and accessible. NYC pod has been focusing on science outreach and communication. We have a lot of SciComm experts in our pod and have tried to take advantage of their experience. Our traditional "Science at the Bar" features four female scientists who would short talks on their research at a bar. We have partnered with lots of different organizations for our events as well, e.g. Wikipedia edit-a-thon (in collaboration with WINS at American Museum of Natural History), a panel discussion about people's complex career paths (“Stories behind the CV” in collaboration with New York Academy of Sciences), Science Salon to Benefit Ciencia PR (in collaboration with Taste of Science NYC), and a series of workshops on legal issues for scientists interested in advocacy and activism (“Know Your Rights: Legal Literacy for Scientists” in collaboration with Climate Science Legal Defense Fund). When we invite speakers for our events, we aim to bring together a set of people with different backgrounds - in terms of scientific field, career stage, ethnicity, nationality, and other dimensions of diversity. We also try to plan activities and events that are relevant and interesting to a wide range of women in science.

If you could go back to the first day you started your graduate work and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?

It is okay to be older, and a student. Also, hangovers will hurt like hell when you get older. Just kidding. “Hard work isn’t the same as peak performance.”

Yoko's LinkedIn profile can be found here:

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