Jiangyue (Luna) Zhang

Jiangyue Luna ZhangJiangyue (Luna) Zhang, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, has a lengthy and impressive list of scholarly credentials. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the classroom, but her expertise does not end with the hard sciences. She also brings the understanding that there is an art to teaching science.

While still a sophomore at the University of Science and Technology in Beijing, where she earned a B.S. in physical chemistry, Zhang began to think about what to do after graduation. “Everybody at that time was thinking that the United States was the best place to conduct scientific research, the best option for academic development. I decided to apply to Temple and was lucky enough to be accepted.”

Zhang earned both a master’s and doctorate from Temple University’s College of Science and Technology, where her dissertation topic was “Self-Assembled Monolayers and Bilayers on Spherical Support.” As a graduate teaching assistant, she taught laboratory courses in chemistry, physical chemistry and polymers, and it was there as a TA that she became intrigued by the influence of teaching method on student engagement and success.

“I was always interested in science,” said Zhang. “My father is a chemist and I’m like my father, so I guess I have the genes!”

But Zhang realized early on that it takes more than the influence of genetics to really capture and hold a student’s attention.

“I was introduced to chemistry in middle school and it was the only class that would include demonstrations. In addition to solving problems, we got to see something fascinating.”

Incorporating that fascinating visual element has remained a theme of Zhang’s work as a professor. “When I was working as a teaching assistant for Dr. Schmuckler, professor of chemistry and science education at Temple, he always talked about teaching methods and how well the students reacted to his demonstrations. Those demonstrations made a hard topic easier to approach, and that had a huge influence on me.”

Zhang has organized her teaching philosophy around four basic principles: Using visuals; relating concepts to daily life; using teaching tools from technology; and continuing her own professional growth.

One of Zhang’s favorite demonstrations is what she refers to as the “Halloween Reaction.” According to Zhang, “In a few seconds, the reaction mixture of three solutions changes colors from clear and transparent to bright orange and then to dark purple – the beautiful bright Halloween colors! I usually bring the demonstration into my classroom when Halloween is right around the corner.

“Observing the interesting color changes, the students immediately start to wonder about the chemistry behind it and ask questions, such as what is happening at the molecular level?”

Zhang also presents a variety of examples from daily life that highlight the relevance of chemistry to common experience. She explains such things as how to read a food label, how painkillers work in the body, how plastics are categorized based on chemical composition, and the difference between a saturated and unsaturated fatty acid. “Chemistry is everywhere in our lives. Showing the power of chemistry and how it changes and improves our lives enriches the content of my class and reveals the meaning behind learning chemistry.”

Videos play an important role in Zhang’s classroom, especially in the area of forensic science, with one example focusing on a cold case that was solved 37 years after the crime using an FBI Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) database.

Zhang also joined the iPad pilot program and researched chemistry apps that can be used in teaching. “One app I found particularly useful and functional is an electronic periodic table called EMD. It has all the basic information about each element, as well as an image of the element, the story about the discoverer, and even suggestions for analytical testing.”

Zhang is affiliated with the American Chemistry Society (ACS) in three divisions: Analytic Chemistry, Chemical Education, and Polymer Materials–Science and Engineering. She is also a member of the National Science Teacher Association. Her research ranges from the highly technical, such as her work studying polymer functionalized materials with Gel Permeation Chromatography (GPC), to the immediately practical, such as modifying the chemistry content in the Survey of Chemistry class to better fit the needs of nursing students.

In addition to her published papers and numerous presentations, Zhang is now involved in building a Raman spectrometer, an instrument that allows scientists to study the interaction of light and matter as a method of chemical identification and analysis. “Raman is my current project,” said Zhang, who is working with two undergraduate students on its construction. “It has many applications in chemistry, and it can be used to analyze chemical structure and bonding, organic functional groups, and protein folding and dynamics.”

Zhang feels strongly that involving students through visually dramatic in-class demonstrations of chemical reactions, hands-on experiments and projects such as the Raman spectrometer are the most effective ways of making an intimidating subject accessible. “Research shows that chemistry is the hardest class for the undergrad student,” said Zhang. “There is the fear of the subject to overcome, so I never teach the same course twice. I am always modifying the content of the course to meet the needs of my students.”

As Zhang has clearly demonstrated, the most important reaction in her chemistry class is the one her students have to the material being presented.

“I like chemistry very much,” she said, “but when you do research, it can take a very long time to get results. But with teaching, by the end of the lecture I can tell if I did my job right, if I explained the concepts clearly, if I was able to get my students’ attention. I am blessed to be working in an environment like this that combines my love for chemistry and for teaching.”

Zhang also feels blessed by the Immaculata community, both her colleagues and her students. “They have all been so supportive of me,” she said, “every step of the way. They have helped me grow into who I am today.”

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