Yuen Yee Li Sip, a graduate of UCF’s Biotechnology bachelor’s and Nanotechnology master’s programs and currently completing her doctoral degree in the Materials Science and Engineering department, has traveled a long way from her hometown in the Caribbean. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Sint Maarten, Li Sip traveled more than 1,000 miles to attend UCF in 2012.
As an undergrad at UCF, Li Sip became involved with nanotechnology in her undergraduate research when utilizing nanomaterials for biomedical sensing applications. While pursuing her master’s, she joined UCF Professor of Nanoscience Technology Center and the Department of Chemistry Le Zhai’s research group and dove deeper into material sciences and nanotechnology. She is still a key member of his team as a doctoral student now, where she and her fellow lab members are developing polymeric materials and composites for various applications. One of the team’s recent projects involves designing a new spacesuit overlay material mimicking the microstructures of bee hair onto origami patterns.
Li Sip became a NASA fellow in 2020, allowing her to expand her studies and research endeavors. Li Sip is currently working on incorporating chemical compounds and nanoscale balls of metal, otherwise known as metal nanoparticles, into various substances to form composite materials for new and enhanced applications. For her fellowship, she is attempting to integrate metal nanoparticles into inorganic nanoporous thin films for antimicrobial property as well as to infuse lubricant for a slippery surface effect. The goal of these coatings is to produce an anti-biofouling effect and minimize bacterial growth in the water supply network in space stations.
“These experiences have opened my eyes to see the many things we have created and can create and the many ways we can study them,” Li Sip says. “My NASA fellowship is one good example that puts the research focus into reality—that can be implemented in both space stations and on Earth. I feel like I am contributing on a greater scope through the project.”
She credits UCF with prioritizing diversity in academic programs and research and is grateful for how her doctoral journey is at an institution that provides a safe environment, facilities, and opportunities to explore her field further. Her advice to other graduate students is to remember curiosity drives the graduate student the most.
“There will be bumps along the way during research but learn from obstacles and failures and see what you can do about them,” she says. “Even failures can be seen as new discoveries. Keep moving forward and seek help from others whenever you can.”
After graduating, Li Sip aspires to work as a scientist or engineer for a company continuing in material development and characterization.