Yang Selected for Sigma Xi's Best Undergraduate Research Award

Friday, March 19, 2021

Laura Yang

CEE student Laura Yang has been selected for the 2021 Sigma Xi Best Undergraduate Research Award, one of Georgia Tech’s highest honors for an undergraduate researcher.

Yang is one of only two undergraduates at the Institute to receive the award. She was recognized for her independent research conducted with Professor Kostas Konstantinidis and Nga Lee (Sally) Ng, an associate professor in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering with a courtesy appointment in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Since 1947, the Georgia Tech Chapter of Sigma Xi, an honor society of scientists and engineers, has honored Georgia Tech faculty and students for their research at an awards banquet each spring. Due to Covid-19, the 2021 Sigma Xi awards will be presented in a virtual ceremony.

“I wish to acknowledge all the guidance and support I received as an undergraduate student researcher from Dr. Konstantinidis, Dr. Ng, and my lab members,” Yang said. “They helped me to grow as an independent researcher and made me feel at home. I also wish to thank the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering for providing tremendous opportunities for undergraduate researchers to freely explore research ideas. I am planning to pursue a Ph.D. in atmospheric chemistry starting this fall, and this award encourages me to move forward with passion.”

Under Ng’s guidance, Yang investigated the thermal decomposition mechanisms of organic aerosol compounds in an instrument known as the Filter Inlet for Gases and AEROsols (FIGAERO). FIGAERO measures gases and aerosols present in the atmosphere, ramping up to a very high temperature that causes collected aerosols to sublimate.  Some compounds may thermally decompose in high temperatures, making it difficult to determine whether the observed signal is a compound present in the environment or an artifact from thermal decomposition. Yang characterized the thermal decomposition behaviors of compounds systematically to help users better distinguish their observations as a lead author for the manuscript.

Yang worked with Konstantinidis on a paired case-control study to assess the response of the human gut microbiome to diarrhea in northern coastal Ecuador. She studied which characteristics, such as geographical remoteness, health status, and demographic factors, affect the gut microbiome of the northern Ecuadorian population, which is still heavily affected by diarrheal diseases. In collaboration with researchers from other universities, Yang conducted DNA extraction on stool samples, implemented bioinformatics tools to analyze the data, and prepared the manuscript as a lead author. 

“I have been really fortunate to work with many great undergraduate researchers during my 15 years at Georgia Tech. Laura clearly rises to the top of this cohort and thus, she totally deserves the Sigma Xi award,” Konstantinidis said. “I am also very happy that she has chosen to continue to graduate school and I am certain that great things will come out of her Ph.D. studies.”