Shi Choong’s story starts in her native country of Malaysia, where
she grew up speaking Mandarin Chinese and Malay across from
a market where the screams of chickens being plucked alive woke
her up every morning.
She was raised by hardworking parents who saw no need for
education. Her father is illiterate and her mother has a second-grade
education. Choong excelled in science classes and went on to earn
an undergraduate degree in chemistry from San Francisco State
University. After working for pharmaceutical companies, Choong
decided to continue her education and is pursuing her doctoral
degree in chemistry at Purdue.
;6: 15 a.m. – Choong is a morning person. She downs a glass
of water before making her lunch. On today’s menu are bell
peppers stuffed with quinoa, mushrooms, cilantro, black beans,
tomato and cheese.
;7: 24 a.m. – At the Córdova Recreational Sports Center — the
Co-Rec — Choong works up a sweat before going into the lab.
She rocks the elliptical before pumping some iron.
“For me, working out in the morning is very important because
it gives me the energy to get started,” Choong says. “It makes
me feel peaceful and happy.”
;8: 16 a.m. – Choong goes to the fourth floor of Brown Laboratory
of Chemistry to check into the lab of Shelley Claridge, an
assistant professor of chemistry and biomedical engineering.
Claridge and Choong are collaborating on a project that uses
phospholipids, similar to those found in the cell membrane, as
building blocks for new interfaces tailored to stick to or repel
other surfaces. Traditionally this has meant water-repellent
windshields and backpacks, but that’s just the beginning.
;10: 30 a.m. – Choong measures her graphite samples to see
how many phospholipid molecules are swimming on the surface.
She needs to get a uniform number on several different surfaces.
That’s a tough task, but her lab is equipped with Langmuir
troughs to help.
“Right now we’re at 54 square Ångstroms per molecule,” she
says. “That’s the best packing density to optimize the transfer.”
;11: 38 a.m. – Choong heats her lunch and eats in her office,
as there is much work to be done.
;2: 29 p.m. – After a check-in with Claridge, Choong goes down
to the third floor of Brown to the Amy Facility for Chemical
Instrumentation. In the cavernous room, a suite of high-resolution microscopes awaits.
Choong loads her samples into an atomic force microscope so
she can examine the surface coverage. Like an atomic scale
version of reading Braille, the microscope rasters a sharp probe
back and forth across the surface, feeling out individual rows
;6 p.m. – In a conference room within the Roland G. Parrish
Library of Management and Economics in the Krannert Building,
Choong helps lead a meeting of the TEDxPurdueU committee
as assistant director. The big event isn’t until March 25, but the
organization puts on smaller talks and other events throughout
the academic year.