Kayla Pham

Student Research Assistant , Columbia University
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  • United States of America

I am a/an:

Undergraduate Leadership & Research Scholar


Columbia University

Laidlaw Cohort Year


Research Topic


Area of Expertise

Physics Science

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United States of America

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My hobbies/interests are:

Art Basketball Film & TV Pets Politics & current events Volunteering

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Columbia University

Recent Comments

Jun 21, 2023
Replying to Kira Ratan

1. A large portion of my research involves searching through extensive databases and trying to pinpoint specific materials that will help move my research question forward. However, because I am looking for niche topics, oftentimes it becomes hard to know where to start from and how to lead the database in the right direction towards what I'm actually looking for. Under-researched fields, especially when doing historical research, make it hard to know where to begin from and who to look to for expertise, and oftentimes researchers have to find subjects with several degrees of separation in order to begin parsing their own analyses and arguments together. 

2. When I do find an essay or an article pertaining to the topics I'm studying, I have found that using the "Cited By" feature has led me to a swath of information that relates to my research, but my database searches might not have directed me to the first time around. I also have found that pictures/visuals are super valuable pieces of research, and sometime even say more as primary sources than written documents themselves. 

Thanks for your response. I appreciated your discussion of strategies to understand literature. I think using the "Cited By" feature is an incredible way to understand the conversation around your topic of research. Similarly, I  have found investigating the sources that papers cite to be helpful as well. I typically will follow the literature that the paper in question cites to get more insight into what kinds of ideas and information the original paper is drawing from. Nonetheless, I feel that both ways are insightful ways to better understand the context around the research we are conducting. Thanks!

Jun 21, 2023

    Since starting my project, I have primarily encountered experimental data that contradicts my assumption. Initially, I set out to find polaritonic recycling in MoS2 (molybdenum disulfide). For more context, a polariton is essentially a particle that is half-light and half-matter. The light aspect of the "particle" enables it to move incredibly fast, while the particle aspect allows for extraction for modern technologies. However, after reviewing relevant data about MoS2 that might have indicated polaritonic recycling, it turns out that the electron transport found in the material is likely normal diffusion - which is not the purpose of the overall investigation. In addition to this, the material MoS2 was producing data of poor quality. Thereby, it was necessary to switch to a higher quality material - WSe2 - that was meticulously grown and cultivated in another lab at Columbia. However, many of the same problems that were occurring with MoS2 are also occurring with WSe2 - hindering the discovery of polaritonic recycling in a transition metal dichalcogenide (TMD) - known for their unique ability to self-hybridize (form polaritons without external cavities). Nonetheless, the investigation will persist but likely at a different angle to find polaritonic recycling. The most valuable resource through this process has been others. Whether it be people in my own lab or others in the department, perspective and expertise has been incredibly useful in progressing in my own investigation.

    Jun 20, 2023
    Replying to Benjamin Oren Goldman

    1. My research this summer is part of a larger project that will likely continue through my second and third years of college. It will likely culminate in a paper. However, this paper will probably not be ready for at least a year or two, as I am only beginning to produce novel results. This summer, I have mainly worked with my mentor to build a foundation of how to apply some of the tools that astrophysicists use when studying turbulence. I've gained a mathematical understanding of how energy flows in fluids, and a practical experience in the use of simulations to perform experiments. I expect to continue to use these throughout the study while continuing to learn the mechanics of what I'm studying.

    2. My research matters because it will aid us in the detection and observation of largely unknown phenomena. Part of my project involves understanding the evolution of neutron stars' magnetic fields after they collide. These magnetic fields are expected to drive gamma-ray emissions, which are observable. Therefore, by producing quantitative predictions of how their magnetic fields work, we can eventually determine what radiation signatures to observe and produce hints on how to interpret them.

    Thanks for your response, Ben. Your research sounds fascinating! Fluid mechanics have always interested me and I look forward to hearing more about your research someday. I also appreciated your discussion of your timeline. One thing that I took awhile to realize, and still am grappling with, is how long research takes - years on end or even decades for some people. Results take time so I appreciated your responses! 

    Jun 20, 2023

    1) My research is apart of an investigation into transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs). It is a continuation from the previous semester but now testing a different material - one with potential to be able to transport electrons farther and faster than many other materials. It is the stepping stone to be being able to extract electrons for modern day technologies. Overall, the research I am conducting will be apart of a larger manuscript that is being written.

    2) The investigation of the transport and extraction of polaritons (particles that are half-matter and half-light)   holds promise to improve energy efficiency for countless applications as the flow of energy is central to life and technology. Emerging materials like transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs) are known to be excellent semiconductors with photovoltaic and photocatalyst applications. They additionally provide the ideal platform to explore the impact of exciton-polaritons. Practical applications of optimizing energy energy flow include extracting more energy (and faster) from solar cells, storing more energy in batteries, and much more. The potential and unlimited applicability of my research question is what interests me the most. 

    Jun 07, 2023
    Replying to Joseph Karaganis

    1. My research mostly consists of interviews, which are always attached to larger social and ethical questions about the relationship between the interviewer and interviewee. In the context of my own work, this has not been a huge issue--I am interviewing adult journalists who are entirely aware of how I intend to use their answers, and who themselves have a good deal of experience conducting interviews. Since my interviews don't involve personal information, navigating issues surrounding appropriate topic areas has also been easier. Still, I think it is important for me to consider how I take in the information I'm given--am I representing their answers, and their ideas, faithfully? I hope that I am, but that reckoning is a continuous process that will involve close and careful examination of the conversations I've had and the ideas I've taken away from them.

    2. I've actually encountered quite a few--I've realized that as I conduct interviews I've been constantly exposed to new ways of thinking about and conceptualizing my research. My topic has become broader, more nuanced, and more complex with each conversation, since the people I've talked to have each brought their own perspective and ideas to the mix. I'm not entirely sure how to incorporate these ideas into my work all the time--it can be very daunting to shift focus this far into my research, and I'm not sure that I totally will. But my topic's edges have become increasingly blurred as new tensions and insights have infiltrated my project. I'm trying to embrace this change because I think it is part of a necessary process of intellectual growth and self-reflection. But that doesn't mean it isn't intimidating.

    Hi Joseph,

    Thanks for your great response. I really admired your answer to the first question about ethical concerns to your research - specifically how you incorporated questions that you asked yourself to hold yourself accountable for the way that you represent your subjects. Similarly, I have been asking myself questions about the materials I used. Do I know where this material was sourced from? Was the material susutainably sourced? These questions also lead to an evaluation of whether or not I should be studying the materials that I do - some being rare metals that can't be sustainably sourced. It is through this evaluation that I must consider the harm that my work does and that could potentially jusitfy a switch in the materials I study. Nonetheless, it is such questions and concerns that must continue to be raised to ensure a sustainable and ethical future for the field of Materials Science.

    Jun 07, 2023

    Though I am working in a science lab that does not deal with any living subjects, there are still a plethora of ethical concerns in Materials Science - the main being ethical issues associated with sourcing certain materials. Many elements used in Material Sciences research (aluminum, copper, graphite, and much more) can be, and have been, sourced with child labor, low working standards, and unsafe conditions. Thus, it is incredibly important to understand where the materials I work with comes from. I am currently studying a material made in another lab at Columbia. It is additionally important to question the accessibility of the research I am conducting - whether it would be equitable or if it would disproportionately help one group of people. As I continue my investigation, I continue to look at my research through the intersection of Chemistry and Physics. Allowing my research to fit in multiple fields and not have rigid descriptors has been incredibly insightful to allow my research to take on multiple shapes and forms.

    May 31, 2023
    Replying to Kira Ratan

    1. Having greater exposure to a wide range of fields of research has been extremely beneficial in helping me place my own research within the context of research practices more broadly. As someone conducting research in the Humanities, it has been fascinating to learn about how research in STEM fields intersects with my own work in many ways and how many of the same considerations of consent and social benefit need to be taken into account, no matter what you are researching. I also think simply learning about relevant topics that exist in fields I am unfamiliar with has made me more aware and I am eager to learn more about these subjects I previously didn't know as much about. 

    2. I have been thinking a lot about Dr. Klitzman's Research Ethics discussion, where we talked about the importance of taking ethics very seriously from the start of your research. As someone who is dealing with archives that contain personal documents, I am very aware of my place as a research and am thinking critically about people's positions in sharing their family history and how to do that in an effective and respectful manner. Even though some of his examples were referring to medicine and bioethics, I feel it has been very applicable as I think about my historical research, too. 

    Hi Kira,

    In the same way you are fascinated with how STEM intersects with your humanities field, I am interested in how the humanities intersect with my STEM field. For example, my research involves a lot of work around physics and specifically waves. I've been studying sound waves recently for their application in Chemistry and I interestingly have been learning a lot about music at the same time. It's always incredible to see how fields intersect despite seemingly unrelatedness. Thanks! 

    May 31, 2023

    Being exposed to a variety of research topics in different disciplines has been incredibly insightful. I foremost have a greater appreciation and understanding of topics outside of the immediate field I am studying. Having this exposure prompts to me look at my research question in a plethora of different ways. Instead of always approaching STEM problems from a pure Physical Chemistry perspective, I try to employ creativity and unconventional methods to go about solving a problem. Being in an interdisciplinary program puts me out of my comfort zone in the ways that I approach researching a specific question or topic. This type of interdisciplinary problem solving has been incredibly useful, especially when feeling "stuck" or when an experiment hasn't gone the way I hoped. 

    As I focus more on my individual research project this week, I've been focusing specifically on the resources that were discussed during the librarian roundtable. I've been utilizing Columbia's databases and other resources to be able to access relevant literature to better contextualize my research. There are so many resources available to students that the struggle has actually been narrowing them down. Thus, I plan to use refining and filtering strategies to find literature that best suits my research needs.