Alyssa Manz, PhD Candidate in Chemistry
Where did you grow up?
What drew you to your field?
Growing up, I had never met women scientists, so I didn't think women belonged in the natural sciences. It wasn't until I took intro physics and chemistry classes in college that I began to change my mind—and the more I learned about the underlying principles of our daily life, the more interested I became in further pursuing these studies. In particular, I was always drawn to mathematical representations in chemistry, and eventually I found my way to the field of physical chemistry. At Columbia, I joined a research group that combines two of my priorities: a project that impacts our daily life while also addressing fundamental questions, and a female PI who demonstrates that women most definitely have a (leading) place in this field.
How would you explain your current research to someone outside of your field?
Materials that have been cooled below their melting point but have not turned into a solid are referred to as supercooled liquids and polymer melts. They are ubiquitous in our daily lives, even if we don't always realize it—in fact, glass is one of the most famous types of these materials—yet many of their molecular-based properties are still poorly understood. My research is focused on gaining a better understanding of the dynamics of these glassy materials.
What is your favorite thing about being a student at Columbia GSAS?
Both in and outside of the lab, I have been given multiple opportunities to learn and grow. I have been able to take on leadership positions in and outside of the chemistry department, have developed professionally through fellowships with GSAS and the CTL, and have had access to amazing research facilities. This combination of scientific and extracurricular opportunities has made my time at Columbia an amazing learning experience.
What resources or opportunities that Columbia provides have been most valuable to you?
My fellowship in academic administration with the engineering department's Professional Development and Leadership program and the CTL's lead teaching fellowship have been very important ways for me to experience other facets of academia that I wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise.
Is there a common misconception about a topic in your field that you wish you could correct?
There's a myth that old stained-glass windows are thicker at the bottom because glass flows at room temperature and gravity has made it accumulate at the bottom. This isn't true—parts of the windows are just thicker due to imperfect manufacturing approaches.
Who are your favorite writers?
I admire Celeste Ng, in particular her debut novel Everything I Never Told You. Some of my other favorite authors include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Claire Bidwell Smith, and Haruki Murakami.
Who are your heroes in real life?
AOC. She fights for what she believes in, and I aspire to be even half as persistent in my endeavors as she is in hers.
What music have you been listening to lately?
A friend of mine and I recently put together a Spotify playlist with a bunch of music we like to listen to while writing our theses. One of my favorite artists from that playlist is Angélique Kidjo. Other non-thesis artists include Childish Gambino, Fynn Kliemann, and Lake Street Dive.
What is your favorite blog or website?
NYT Cooking—I love to cook and bake, and use many NYT recipes as inspiration for my own creations.
Where is your favorite place to eat on/around campus?
I'm not gonna lie, I have come to greatly appreciate the food trucks on Broadway, especially Miracle Thai. When I have a bit more time for lunch, I really like to go to Friedman's and order their Market Plate.