Chan named winner of prestigious award for female scientists

February 19, 2004, vol.29, no.4
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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Although always inclined towards “medicine and mathematics,” Karen Chan says her decision to study science at SFU “was kind of arbitrary.”

An accomplished pianist with a passion for drama and literature, the 19-year-old Vancouver native also entertained the idea of enrolling in an arts program. But last month, the second-year chemical physics student received news that confirmed she'd made the right decision: Chan was named a 2004 winner of the prestigious Women and Engineering Science (WES) competition.

The WES awards - there are 25 presented each year - recognize the research potential of outstanding young Canadian female scientists. The honour affords winners the opportunity to work for several terms at national research institutes, for which they are paid up to a total of $33,000.

This fall, Chan hopes to study nanoscience during a workterm at Montreal's Industrial Materials Institute. It will not be her first time working in a lab: currently, she receives funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to assist SFU professor Zuo-Guang Ye in his solid state chemistry research.

Chan appreciates that SFU's relatively small size offers her “so much more direct contact with professors.” She says she has been given research opportunities much earlier than students at other larger campuses.

“Working as an NSERC student has really inspired me,” says Chan. “In school, you're chasing after the ‘right' answer. But in the research lab, there are a lot more possibilities. You get to ask more questions and be more creative. It's satisfying to know that one day you may be able to contribute to the broader body of knowledge.”

Although Chan has not yet clearly identified her career goals, she thinks it would be “very gratifying” to work as a researcher, and to “make an impact on human health” through biomedicine. She says the biggest challenge ahead will be focusing her area of interest. “At the moment, I'm into nanoscience, but I'm also interested in inorganic chemistry and physics. I'm considering all the possibilities.” She laughs: “I'm open to inspirational professors.”

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