Egleston Scholar: Charles Liang (Applied Physics ‘18)

Charles Liang is from Carmel, just north of Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a junior majoring in Applied Physics and minoring in Applied Mathematics with research interests in sustainable energy, condensed matter physics, and materials science. In the spring of 2017, Charles will be studying abroad at University of Oxford.

During the summer of 2016, Charles conducted biophysics research in Prof. Ozgur Sahin’s Laboratory on Bacillus subtilis spores that are quite responsive to humidity changes. In particular, Charles investigated and tested various adhesives that bind B. subtilis spores, which expand and contract greatly due to changes in humidity, onto a substrate and then characterized their performance (e.g. radius of curvature and speed of bending). Since there are humidity changes due to the natural evaporation of water, B. subtilis spore-based materials have potential applications in creating clean energy, evaporation-driven engines and generators.

During the summer of 2015, Charles conducted biomedical physics research in the Laboratory for Functional Optical Imaging under the guidance of Prof. Elizabeth Hillman. He conducted research on using ultrafast laser pulses on imaging the brains of mice and the living brains of fruit flies using light sheet microscopy. He then used computational methods to try to improve the image quality of resulting brain images.
Charles went to Carmel High School, where he discovered his interest in physics, research, and environmental community service. Charles has conducted research in quantum physics under the guidance of Prof. Yogesh Joglekar at Indiana University – Purdue University of Indianapolis (IUPUI). He investigated how special matrices called PT (Parity and Time)-symmetric Hamiltonians can better model how light flows in optical fiber networks and potentially lead to improved light transmission. As a result of his work, Charles has been recognized as a semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search and Siemens Competition and as a Third Award winner (Physics & Astronomy category) at Intel ISEF, while also holding a publication in the journal Physical Review A. His experiences in the lab have helped him further his passion in physics.

In his free time, Charles enjoys swimming, playing the violin, practicing Chinese calligraphy, and practicing French with friends. He is outreach director of the Society of Physics Students, and in fall 2015, Charles founded the student initiative Phones4Education. Charles, along with several friends, won an Engineering Student Council Grant later that year. Their project is to seek used smartphones/tablets/e-readers donations, download free educational apps, podcasts, and eBooks (e.g. Khan Academy, TED, and Project Gutenberg’s free e-books), and then donate these devices to local underserved students, such as those in foster care through a partnership with Columbia Law School’s Adolescent Representation Clinic. In the future, Charles aspires to pursue a career in academia, hoping to conduct clean energy research to help those that are less fortunate, including the nearly two billion in the world without access to electricity.

The Egleston Scholars Program recognizes undergraduate students of Columbia Engineering who embody the mission of the School at large: “to educate socially-responsible engineering and applied science leaders whose work results in the betterment of the human condition, locally, nationally, and globally." For more information, see:

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