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Zheng Yuan
Zheng "Kate" Yuan

UTSA Commencement Close-Up: Zheng Yuan earns first doctorate in collaborative physics program

By Kris Rodriguez
Public Affairs Specialist

(Dec. 19, 2007)--It started in 2005 with enrollment of the first class in the master's and doctoral degree program in physics offered by UTSA and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). Two years later, both institutions are celebrating last week's graduation of Zheng "Kate" Yuan, the first recipient of a doctoral degree in physics from the collaborative program.

The first of its kind in Texas, the program prepares graduates to make significant contributions to the evolution of space science and technologies, biophysics and cosmology. SwRI scientists develop and teach advanced graduate courses and supervise graduate students while remaining full-time SwRI employees. UTSA graduate students are given the opportunity to conduct research in SwRI laboratories.

Yuan's research interest is in the area of solid-state physics, where she focused on advanced thin-film coatings, surface analysis and modification of smart materials using energetic ion beams and plasmas.

"My research is a high-payoff undertaking that could lead to tremendous applications significantly related to the public safety enhancement and new wireless communication system developments," said Yuan. "This is something I enjoy doing and when I feel I am making progress, I realize how beneficial my work is."

Yuan came to UTSA to begin the doctoral program after her supervisor at the University of Houston, Chonglin Chen, relocated his laboratory to San Antonio. Yuan already had enrolled in the doctoral program at UH, but decided to follow Chen in his new endeavor.

Yuan is a member of the Materials Research Society (MRS), Material Advantage (TEM) and the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG). In the last four years, she has published more than 10 peer-reviewed papers in top journals in the field of applied physics. She received the Presidential Dissertation Award in 2007.

"I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Dr. Chen for his encouragement, advice mentoring and support through my doctoral studies," said Yuan. "His patience, tolerance and unwavering belief in me during the long journey helped so I could successfully complete my dissertation."

Yuan also credits her parents in China, Pinghe Yuan, a hospital president and physician, and Zhenxia Ge, a retired high school English teacher. They raised Zheng in a very disciplined and traditional Chinese environment, but encouraged her training in piano, chess, painting and calligraphy to broaden her knowledge, not only in science but also in the fine arts.

"Both have instilled many admirable qualities in me and have given me a foundation with which to meet life," Yuan said. "They have taught me hard work and self-respect, about persistence and about how to be an independent and strong woman."

Yuan received her bachelor of science degree in electronic engineering from Fudan University in China, and her master of science degree in physics from the University of Houston.

Yuan wants to use her knowledge of both science and engineering in the oil and gas industry. After her graduation, she will work at ION Geophysical Input/Output Inc. in Houston, Texas, the leading provider of high-quality seismic data for hydrocarbon exploration by the oil and gas industry.

It begins a new adventure for her.

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