UCLA Spotlight


Elena Hsieh and Gilmer Youn, Undergraduate Research

  • By Stuart Wolpert, Stuart Wolpert
  • Published Jun 1, 2002 8:00 AM

Elena W.Y. Hsieh and Gilmer Youn are undergraduate researchers in UCLA's College of Letters & Science. Each has a faculty mentor who has been a major influence.

"Lisa is my hero," says Hsieh about her faculty mentor, Lisa Schimmenti, in UCLA's department of human genetics and pediatrics. "She inspires me. She's a great mom with two kids, a clinician, and a researcher, who succeeds in every area of her life. I don't want to ever lose contact with her."

Schimmenti returns the praise, saying, "Elena is remarkable in her ability to perform complex techniques such as tissue culture and RNA isolation. She works more like a seasoned graduate student than an undergraduate . . . She possesses remarkable scientific and humanistic abilities."

Youn, a biochemistry major, and J. Fraser Stoddart, who holds an endowed chair as UCLA's Saul Winstein Professor of Organic Chemistry, speak just as highly of each other.

"In every respect, Gilmer has simply blown me away," Stoddart says. "He is every bit as talented and independent as most graduate students, and so intelligent and hard working that I can easily rank him already as more creative and productive than some postdoctoral fellows. His progress has been quite remarkable."

"Fraser is awesome and has inspired me so much," Youn says of Stoddart. "I'm impressed by his drive. He gets up at insane hours and works into the night. He always has an encouraging word to say, cares so much for the people who work in his research group, and is able to balance his scientific life and his family life. He demonstrated confidence in me from day one, and that motivated me even more. He has inspired and influenced me more than anyone else."

Hsieh and Youn are among 68 college students nationally who were selected by the Council on Undergraduate Research to present their original research on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Both are graduating seniors. Hsieh's research focuses on how a mutant receptor may lead to a rare form of leukemia. Youn conducts research in organic chemistry and nanotechnology, designing and synthesizing chemical compounds that function as molecular machines on the nano scale.

"Research poses a challenge beyond memorizing facts and learning the experiments of past scientists," says Youn. "I enjoy the challenge of learning something that nobody has ever discovered."

"In books, you read that scientists did this experiment and got this result, and it sounds like you could do that in weeks," Hsieh says. "In the lab, you see that it can take months, or even years. You learn science by doing science."

Both students have earned numerous honors, and have published their research. Both are also actively involved in community service.

"Working with the homeless on Skid Row is overwhelmingly rewarding," Youn says. "It humbles me, and teaches me how much of a difference an individual can make."

"Working in a health clinic, I see that patients feel intimidated, scared and nervous," Hsieh says. "I've learned that I want to be the kind of doctor who not only treats symptoms, but who really cares about the person who has the symptoms, and who treats patients with respect."

"The wealth of opportunities at UCLA has amazed me," Youn says. "It was the best choice I could have made."

Hsieh agrees, saying, "UCLA has so many opportunities for research, and so many community service programs, and activities. I'm so glad UCLA became a reality for me."