Vanier scholar studies how organic transistors can send, receive and store electrical signals

Zhihui Yi likes to explore new scientific territory.

This desire can sometimes lead to failed experiments. But that doesn't stop her persistent motivation as a researcher. If anything, it motivates her.

"The only way that you can find success is from thousands of failures," Zhihui says. "I've wanted to be a great inventor since my childhood."

Both of her parents always encouraged her to find answers to scientific questions and become that inventor.

Zhihui went to Jilin Normal University and Jilin University in China and graduated as a top student in chemistry with a bachelor's degree in 2004 and a master's degree in 2007, respectively.

In 2012, she expanded her scientific interest to organic bioelectronics. This new field combines chemistry, physics, and engineering with biology. Researchers here want to transmit information between living cells and organic materials, like gels or films, so that they can potentially influence communication among cells. This work could help repair damaged tissue in the human body, such as skin.

In order to work in organic bioelectronics, Zhihui came to Canada to pursue her PhD in Dr. Fabio Cicoira's lab at École Polytechnique de Montréal. She is currently studying how organic transistors (particularly salt solutions combined with an organic film) can send, receive and store electrical signals. By understanding how to control electrical activity at this level, better transistors could be developed, and then be implanted in the human body. This would help target delivery of drugs and also contribute in the fight against epilepsy, neurodegenerative diseases, and hearing/vision loss.

The Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship has helped Zhihui in a variety of ways.

"It provided wonderful opportunities for communicating my research and networking with eminent researchers," she says.

For anyone who wants to become a researcher, Zhihui recommends determination and devotion to science. She also says that progress with your work can come from a willingness to share with others.

"If there are suggestions from others, think about it," she says. "All suggestions whether you like them or not will help you in some way."

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