Physics: Ariana Yu

Many children dream of becoming a princess, a space cowboy or an entertainer, and for the majority of them, it is rare that dreams become reality. But for Arina Yu, her dream of pursuing science became more and more plausible over time.

Her first inkling of interest in science began not from a unique geology teacher in fourth grade or loving the great outdoors on family camping trips, but from her living room couch. Her first viewing of a science fiction movie sparked a fire within her. 

“It was ‘Transformers,’” Yu said as she laughed. “I felt like this was so cool….I was in primary school, and that motivated me to learn English.”

Once she got to middle school, her intrigue in science only increased.

“I watched a movie called ‘Interstellar,’” Yu said. “I realized, oh my God, it’s amazing to invent something or just explore something about science.”

In China, where Yu grew up, her schooling focused on exams and information on paper — she never saw “the beauty of science,” as she called it, from an educational point of view until later. Yu had only experienced the possibilities that science had to offer in the movies, which drove her toward physics.

When Yu came to Wake Forest, she was excited to learn physics in a setting with a small student-to-faculty ratio and dive into her studies. From the start, her eagerness to learn physics poured out.

“The first class I took was modern physics,” Yu said. “I realized everything about particles and the quantum phase is so cool. And the second semester of my freshman year, I took an electronics class, and that’s how I got into the research group.”

Yu has been conducting research with transistors since her freshman year with Dr. Oana Jurchescu. Her research helped shorten optimization processes by creating a sustainable methodology for constructing devices without compromising performance.  

“[Yu’s] contribution to science should be considered a major breakthrough,” Jurchescu said.

Not only has Yu excelled in her physics major and research, but she has a second major in mathematics and a minor in Japanese. She does research with Dr. Stephen Robinson in the math department, creates digital art and engages in photography.

It’s evident that Yu’s drive to go above and beyond shines in every aspect of her life, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“I admire [Yu’s] dedication and enthusiasm,” Jurchescu said. “She is a clever and hardworking student with great potential as an independent researcher.”

Yu’s ability to chase down her dreams and tackle them with flying colors all stems from a desire to do more — just like in her childhood.

“I just feel like doing something super ambitious,” Yu said. “So normally I will come up with big plans. Then I will just divide this big plan into several steps … Everything won’t be super organized….But first, you need to have a big plan.”

And that, she has. From her big plans to learn about science as a kid to her big plans for research strides as a Wake Forest student, Yu is setting her sights on another big plan — graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the fall, Yu will continue to work with transistors as she pursues her Ph.D. in electrical engineering.

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