Bianca Myriah Ceballos was always curious about the world around her, but coming from a family with immigrant parents and being the first in her family to pursue college education, the path wasn’t always so clear.
“For me, my path to college and then graduate school was like walking through a dimly lit tunnel that I eagerly wanted to explore,” Ceballos shared. “I didn’t really know what to expect, what came next, or what was at the end, but I was fortunate to find mentors that helped me along the way, plus my family has also been a steady source of support for me.”
The fourth year graduate student in the UCI School of Physical Sciences is the recent recipient of the Latino Excellence and Achievement Award.
“I was completely shocked to have won but it feels amazing to be recognized among so many accomplished students that are not only exceling in their field, but who are also positive change-makers for the Latino community,” Ceballos said. “It was inspiring and I am so grateful to have been a part of the inaugural class of awardees.”
In the field of sciences, women and particularly women of color are still minorities, but Ceballos has not let that hold her back from pursuing her dreams.
“As a daughter of immigrant parents, the ideas of hope and hard work helped shape my ambitions to study science,” she said. “The challenges I faced and the perspective I gained as a minority woman in science have helped shape me. I feel I have a responsibility to overcome hardship as I work toward a successful chemistry research career.”
Ceballos is working in Professor Jenny Yang’s lab on research revolving around nature’s use of energy through making and breaking chemical bonds. The Yang lab’s research is focusing on pursuing artificial photosynthesis technology that uses transition metal catalysts to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) and water into fuels like hydrogen (H2) or formic acid (HCO2H).
Specifically, Ceballos herself is pursuing research that focuses on the fundamental study of metal hydrides which are key intermediates in the catalytic cycle to do important fuel forming reactions. “By understanding the barriers of the energy landscape for these fuel forming reactions, we hope to find new strategies to reach our target products,” she added.
Ceballos shared that another part of her success as a graduate student came from participating in various workshops, mentoring programs and a communications course at UCI.
“Participating in the Competitive Edge Program the summer before starting my graduate school program was a fun and helpful experience,” she said. “I connected with mentors early on and the workshops on fellowship application writing were crucial to my eventual success in winning the NSF GRFP.”
About a year away from completing her doctorate at UCI, Ceballos is looking beyond graduation towards her post-doctorate research career, which she hopes to pursue at a national lab.
“I enjoy thinking about the problems facing our energy future from both a benchtop and policy perspective,” she shared. “I see myself growing into a career in energy storage research and eventually science policy.”
A bright, energetic future is certainly ahead for this graduate student.