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Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

DNA of UCD with Tonya Kuhl

Leading UC Davis to ninth place out of 29 teams in a chemical car competition, Tonya Kuhl knows her Ligand-Receptor Interactions from her Polymer Thin-Films. The UC Davis professor, researcher and student adviser has been recognized for her accomplishments in research and teaching so early in her career, and she has the awards to prove it.


What do you teach at Davis?

For the past couple of years I have taught the following three courses: ECH80, ECH155A and ECH155B. ECH 80 is an introductory class called Chemical Engineering Profession. The course introduces a variety of job opportunities, goes through ethics for chemical engineers (ChemEs), discusses current hot topics in the news that involve ChemEs and has guest speakers from industry. I also teach the senior engineering lab, ECH 155A and 155B Chemical Engineering Laboratory. These courses involve applying the fundamentals and analysis learned in previous ChemE courses to real laboratory experiments.


Do you have a favorite class?

I have enjoyed teaching most of the courses I have ever taught at Davis. I like the lower division ECH 80 as the topics are interesting and current. I also enjoy the labs as the interaction with students is very heavy and I really get to know the students well.


What was your favorite part about the chemical car competition?

Seeing the student’s car work so well and their excitement on being so successful. It can be pretty stressful and we had a hard time convincing the judges that the students had constructed a safe car. I was really proud of how well they handled that adversity and performed at the competition.


What is another application of chemical engineering that people don’t necessarily know about?

Chemical engineers are involved with most consumer products from orange juice, disposable diapers, to cosmetics.


What fascinates you most about science?

Being able to really figure something out at a fundamental level. Understanding how to manipulate a system to make it do what you want.


What is some interesting research you have done at UC Davis?

A lot of our work involves understanding the self-assembly, structure and function of cellular membranes and using this understanding to design new materials.


What did you do before you came to UC Davis?

Pretty standard academic life, undergrad, grad school, postdoctoral research. One unusual aspect is that I started my family while I was a graduate student.


What is your favorite chemical and why?

Wine. ChemEs are involved and it is another example of an excellent consumer product when done well.


What do you hope for in the future of chemistry?

Design better drug targeting vehicles.


Where in the world would most like to live and why?

All over. I am glad to be an American and will always consider this home. However, one of the big pleasures of academics and science is that it is international. There are folks to work with all over the world and I very much enjoy traveling. Next year I will take a six-month sabbatical in France.


What is something your students may not know about you?

Dangerous question, but one thing is that I like disco music.


LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.


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