Joshua Tsang ’18

Chemistry major chased teleporting protons and whitewater rapids.

September 1, 2018

Hometown: Vancouver, Canada

Thesis adviser: Prof. Miriam Bowring [chemistry 2016–]

Thesis: Synthesis of a Heterobimetallic Iridium-Ruthenium Complex towards the Investigation of a Large Kinetic Isotope Effect

What it’s about: Different chemical reactions occur at different speeds. What’s weird is that the speeds of two identical chemical reactions can differ by 40-fold when only the mass of a reactant changes slightly. The molecule I’m synthesizing has been shown to behave like this and the explanations are contentious but may involve the molecule acting as a wave instead of a particle.

What it’s really about: Teleporting protons, maybe?

Cool stuff: I helped develop a chemistry lab class curriculum and then taught it. I learned to white-water kayak—it started as a PE course but became a passion; next thing you know, I’m throwing myself down a 20-foot waterfall. My involvement in the Portland water sports community led me to become an ACA-certified stand-up paddleboard instructor. I also went to Jingdezhen, China, to study ceramics with an International Travel Fellowship and coincidentally met my artistic idol.

Concept that blew my mind: The Copenhagen interpretation, one of many descriptions of quantum mechanics, proposes that the physical properties of matter do not exist until they’re measured.

Favorite classes: My favorite chemistry class was Physical Chemistry Laboratory with Prof. Dan Gerrity [chemistry 1987–]. Physical chemistry can seem like a bunch of math and theory, but this class really helped me to visualize these theoretical concepts through the spectroscopy of simple molecules. Natural Resource Economics with Prof. Noelwah Netusil [economics 1990–] opened my eyes to the global challenges and consequences of resource management.

How Reed changed me: Reed has helped me develop an intuition of how I think the world should work, whether through chemistry or not. In science, this is the basis of forming hypotheses: applying patterns of known phenomena to predict unknown events. Elsewhere, my intuition has helped construct and support arguments with the fundamental beliefs that I stand for.

Awards, fellowships, grants: All of my summer opportunities have been funded by fellowships, including the McGill Lawrence fellowship, the Environmental Studies Summer Experience Award, and the Arthur F. Scott summer research fellowship. As an international student, I was not permitted to earn money off campus, nor was I eligible for any federal grants. Funding from Reed opened amazing research opportunities despite these setbacks.

What’s next: PhD in chemistry at UC Berkeley.

Desired superpower: Telekinesis.

Actual superpower: Curing (my own) hiccups.

Pet peeve: When other people ask “Whaddja get?” on assignments or tests. Thankfully this never happens at Reed.