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A Swire Scholar’s story

Ping-Luen Baron Ho (2018, DPhil Chemistry)

My name is Ping-Luen Ho. I was born and raised in Taiwan. My interest in science began when my chemistry teachers set a project to look for a solution to air pollution. I realised that science is not about getting school credit or winning awards. It’s the joy of discovery that is most rewarding.

I fell in love with scientific research and thus became a DPhil student in 2018, co- supervised by Professor Edman Tsang and Professor Peter Nellist. My research explores the topic of “Seeing is Believing” – who knows what surprises a good look at the real thing will yield? A microscope is an essential tool in revealing the “real things”; the many atoms that compose all substances in the world. However, the irony is that when we “see” these atoms with electrons, the electrons are simultaneously inflicting damage on the material. So, the question is “How do we use the minimum number of electrons to extract the information we want from a sample?” During my DPhil, I intend to find a good answer to that question.

The University also provides an extraordinary platform for promoting citizen consciousness and critical thinking. Last year I was elected as the President of the Oxford University Taiwanese Student Society (OUTSS). This year I joined the WCR Committee as Ethnic Minorities and Racial Equality Officer. Rather than holding in-person debates and dinners, we encountered an unprecedented crisis in the form of COVID-19. The Committee has been helping students affected by the pandemic in many ways, from delivering masks and medicine to taking people to the airport,to providing welfare checks alongside the College’s welfare team.

The Black Lives Matter demonstrations for racial justice articulate this new and unstoppable urgency. That sentiment was never likely to be postponed by demands for physical distancing. The WCR Committee have been collaborating with the JCR and the SU on College-wide awareness and policy campaigns on racial equality and justice.

During the pandemic, our laboratory has been closed, so we cannot do experiments. Working from home relies on previous data, so I’m developing programmes to analyse complex variables. It is clear that emerging from this crisis will be a slow and protracted process, requiring patience and planning. International students now have many questions about their course, their health, their safety and their ability to continue working towards an Oxford degree.

In fact, the unsolved scientific problems are the same as the challenges in our lives that are so often accompanied by fear. It is during our darkest moments that we must try to see the light.

Ping-Luen Baron Ho (2018, DPhil Chemistry) Swire Scholar

This feature was adapted from one first published in Issue 12 of The Martlet; read the full magazine here.

Published: 3 February 2021

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