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Meet the Class of 2011: Physics Majors Kayan James and Janelle Lawrence Use Science to Give Back

June 13, 2011


Lehman seniors and physics majors Katherine Mateo, Janelle Lawrence, and Kayan James with Physics and Astronomy Chair Dimitra Karabali (second from left)

This is the tenth in a series of profiles of Lehman College 2011 graduates.

Lehman graduating seniors Kayan James and Janelle Lawrence have always had a deep love of science. The physics majors are now ready to take off on the next leg of their academic journeys as they prepare for careers of their dreams. Lawrence will attend the University of Virginia's master's program in atmospheric science, and James will be busy applying for physics doctoral programs overseas.

The two joined their fellow students last month at the physics reception, where departmental awards were presented, and students shared their research. The Mukerji Award was presented to senior Richard Birrittella, and senior Lexsy Davy received the Gillet Award.

James presented her research on "Semiconductor Quantum Dot—Single Walled Carbon Nanotube Hybrid Photovoltaic Devices," which is related to the construction of organic solar cells. "I wanted to do experimental research," says the Jamaican-born Bronx resident, "and Dr. [Luski] Hovhannisyan was the only one doing such research." Her work has implications for creating environmentally friendly solar cells.

A member of the robotics team at Frederick Douglass Academy, James has always loved physics. "For me, it's so close to magic, if magic does exist," she says. "I've always been fond of figuring out how things work." A scholarship she received from the Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women supported her throughout her four years at Lehman.

James also has been active in the arts as a member of the Young Dance-Makers Company in 2007 and Urban Word's 2008 New York City poetry slam team. "I think I can do many things—maybe not at the same time," says James, who would like to pursue a master's degree in theatre at some point. She feels that her mission is to inspire and mobilize people to help create a better world.

Lawrence, a member of the Lehman Scholars Program, hopes to make a contribution to the field of atmospheric science, which aims to predict the development of storms.

"I have decided to pursue a career in meteorology and know that my background in physics will help me be successful," says Lawrence, who was born in New York City but raised in Antigua with her father. "Thermodynamic physics, optics, and statistical physics have led to great advances in meteorology, and I know that knowledge in these subjects is going to allow for my advancement later on in life."

Since 2009, Lawrence has been conducting research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Corporative Remote Sensing Science and Technology / Interdisciplinary Scientific Environmental Technology (NOAA/CREST/ISET). The research tracks and analyzes the lifecycles of clouds in order to develop an algorithm that would forecast the growth and development of a storm within hours.

Her project, "Extrapolation of Cloud/Storm Cell Evolution Based on Infrared Satellite Observations," created with her advisor Dr. Brian Vant-Hull of NOAA/CREST, was presented at the Junior Scientist Conference in Vienna, Austria (April 2010) and in Fresno, Calif. (November 2010).

Beyond obtaining her master's in meteorology, Lawrence is not sure of her long-term goals. For now, she is happy to immerse herself in a field that she loves and see where the results will take her. "I just know that wherever life takes me, I will be okay," she says.