Elements of Success - Meet Jiahao Gu

May 1, 2024 by Alyx Dellamonica

Undergraduate Profile: Jiahao Gu

A young Asian man in a hooded jacket stands in a forest, grinning.

Program: 4th Year Material Science specialist

Campus & Department: UTSG Chemistry

Area of Interest: Polymer science

Bio: Jiahao is currently a 4th year undergraduate in Biochemistry and Material Science at the St. George campus. He works with Professor Helen Tran on controlling the self-assembly behavior of peptoids – a class of peptide-mimetic polymers.

Outside of the lab, he is part of Victoria College’s peer tutoring team and runs weekly sessions to help students succeed in first-year math and physics courses.

We asked:

Where did your interest in chemistry come from? My initial interest in chemistry came from a book titled The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe, by Theodore Gray, which had all of these beautiful pictures of elements and fun facts about them. I also participated in chemistry competitions in high school and ultimately chose to specialize in organic/polymer chemistry since I really enjoyed solving structural elucidation and retrosynthesis puzzles.

Can you remember a time when a fact about chemistry blew your mind? 

While we usually think of atomic nuclei as spheres, they can actually be oblong or even pear-shaped!

What course have you taken here that has seemed especially remarkable or surprising?

I took Material Physics (MSE335) as part of the Material Science program and found it quite fascinating since it connected my understanding of materials across length scales. As a chemistry student, I’m used to thinking of phenomena on a molecular scale, but the interaction between many atoms/molecules is equally important in determining properties such as thermal conduction, charge transport and magnetism.

You won an Organic Chemistry Division presentation award at SouSCC 52 this year. What put you on the path to that accomplishment? The support from my group definitely played a key role. My advisor Prof. Helen Tran and graduate student mentor Jon Babi provided many of the great ideas that guided my research and eventually crystallized into the core of the project. I also received a lot of valuable feedback from group members on slide design and presentation skills throughout the year, which helped create a conference talk that was clear and engaging.