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Ohio State student overcomes fractured neck, wins award for chemistry research

Elisabeth Bianco fractured her neck during a snowboarding accident two years ago, which kept her out of school for six months. When she returned to Ohio State she focused on a newfound passion: chemistry.
Bianco, a sixth-year in chemistry and agriscience education, recently won the second annual Notre Dame Competition in Nanoscience and Nanoengineering. The award came with a $3,000 prize.
“It feels very good to win. The prize money is not even close as the most gratifying achievement. The science that I do, the research that I do, the fact that my peers find my research relevant, profound and impactful in society is what makes this great,” Bianco said.
The award, announced Oct. 5, recognized her work in creating a one-atom thick layer of the element germanium and studying its properties, which she synthesized and characterized for the first time, according to a press release.
The project was based on an experiment that won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010, which saw the carbon-based material graphene become stripped apart as a single-atom thick layer. Bianco and Joshua Goldberger, an assistant professor of chemistry and Biano’s adviser, wanted to see if that could be applied to elements like germanium.
“It’s definitely an amazing accomplishment for her, she definitely deserves winning … She’s done a lot of excellent research for us since she’s been in my group about a year ago,” Goldberger said. “Based off this competition, the fact that she’s won it shows the work she’s done as an undergraduate is on par with everywhere else in the United States.”
Initially, Bianco wanted to be a veterinarian.
“When I started, I didn’t expect to be in chemistry, I wanted to study to be a veterinarian and go to school for that. While taking prerequisites, I took a chemistry class with Joshua Goldberger as the teacher. I would pick his brain a lot when I would go to his office and the way he explains chemistry is fascinating,” Bianco said. “I was eventually in his research group and he’s a big inspiration and influence, a very contagious and excellent mentor to me. He was the biggest factor not only in my success but interest in chemistry as well.”
Bianco said the research, the constant critical thinking and the fact that it always keeps her on her toes is what attracts her to the field of chemistry.
“You’re working with things you can’t see and you try to understand the big picture and analyze very carefully and deeply,” Bianco said. “You have to really be attentive and focused to find results.”
Sam Sung, a fourth-year in physics and friend of Biano, said she is very competitive and considers her shining moments in the research lab where he said she works for 10-12 hours at a time.
“I’m very proud of her. I was there in the beginning through the entire process of her joining the research group. She’s owed everything she’s got,” Sung said.
But none of this came easy for Bianco. In March 2010, she fractured her neck from snowboarding causing a major setback in her education. Bianco had to withdraw from winter, spring and summer classes, and didn’t return to school until fall 2010. It took six months and three neck surgeries for her to regain her full strength. The accident made her re-examine her future.
“When something like that happens, you re-evaluate things and you realize you don’t have control over everything. It’s hard to say I’m glad it happened, but I’m glad I’m on the path I’m on now,” Bianco said.  
With the competition behind her, Bianco hopes to go to graduate school to study chemistry in Southern California and plans to use the competition money for that endeavor. She is also working on repeating her work on germanium with another element, tin.

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