Carnegie Mellon University
June 07, 2023

Blair Dong Honored with Fugassi and Monteverde Award

By Kirsten Heuring

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

Recent Carnegie Mellon University graduate Zihan "Blair" Dong wants people to tune in to chemistry.

"Scientific communication to the general public or K-12 is really important," said Dong, who graduated in spring 2023 with a bachelor's degree in chemistry and a minor in business administration. "That's how we get more scientists and more people interested in science."

Dong started pursuing research in the spring of 2020. Despite the difficulties of beginning research right at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she became one of the first members of the Kietrys lab, led by Anna M. Kietrys, assistant professor of chemistry.

"Blair was a research trendsetter in our lab," Kietrys said. "She came to the lab very often, read an incredible number of papers and learned fast. She had very good, detailed and mature questions about others' research, read publications and her own research. She showed other students that hard work and asking questions are good habits. Blair helped me as a young faculty member to develop my lab and to attract creative students that are eager to investigate RNA structure and function."

The Kietrys lab investigates RNA-mediated cell signaling and the role of specific types of RNA, including circular RNA and ultra-small RNA. Dong focused on an independent project in the lab investigating how circular RNA can attach to proteins found on breast cancer cells. She modeled a myriad of RNA and tested them to see how they would interact.

"I found that there might be more to the sequences of circular RNA than we now know," Dong said. "Based on the preliminary results, I think that's something really exciting because no one has found anything about that before."

Outside of the lab, Dong served as a Gelfand Center STEM Ambassador for Carnegie Mellon's K-12 outreach programs. She held virtual lessons to teach local elementary and high school students about science topics, and she assisted Gizelle Sherwood, an associate teaching professor of chemistry, with outreach events.

"It was really cool helping kids and seeing them getting hooked on chemistry," Dong said.

Dong also served as a teaching assistant for Analytical Problem-Solving in the Laboratory taught by Karen Stump, a teaching professor and director of undergraduate studies and laboratories in chemistry. Dong helped students with the material, and Stump said that she was confident in Dong's skills in laboratory techniques and scientific communication.

Dong also was an active member of WRCT 88.3 FM, Carnegie Mellon's community radio station. She joined the station her first year and helped manage shows. She hosted her own talk show with a group of friends called "Good Times, Bad Decisions."

Dong said the radio station is a hidden campus gem, and she encouraged more students and community members to engage.

"I really like the variety of things you can do," Dong said. "It's very inclusive. It was so many different kinds of people, and we also have community members that are in their sixties and seventies and alumni who are involved with the station."

At graduation, Dong was honored with the Dr. J. Paul Fugassi and Linda Monteverde Award. The award is presented to one graduating woman in the Mellon College of Science each year for her academic achievements and professional promise.

"Blair is an exceptionally talented scientist who will push the boundaries of what we know about biological disease processes and the development of novel targeted therapies," Stump said.

This fall, Dong will pursue a Ph.D. at Princeton University with a focus on chemical biology. She plans to join the lab of David MacMillan, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry. She said she hopes to find ways to enjoy broadcast and chemistry communication.

"I would love to advocate for chemistry because I think it's really fun," Dong said.

— Related Content —