Honoring Women in STEM: Hee Jeung Oh

What is your area of expertise and what is your research focus?

With the world’s population growing rapidly, the need for clean water and energy is greater than ever. With rising life expectancy, the prevalence of age-related diseases is also increasing rapidly. I seek to address pressing challenges in the Water-Energy Nexus and in health by developing our understanding of polymer membranes and designing new functional polymer membranes for energy-efficient separations, energy storage, and biomedical devices. Specifically, I study the relationship between polymer chemistry, processing, structure, and transport properties for separation science. Specifically, I explore the influence of a polymer’s chemical and physical structures on transport properties such as sorption, diffusion, permeation, and conduction of small molecules in polymers and polymer-based materials. These fundamental studies are critical for designing membranes for liquid, gas, and vapor separations, energy storage, selective removal of unwanted molecules from various chemical streams, biomedical devices, controlled drug delivery, and barrier materials for food and packaging.

How did you end up in STEM?

I wanted to work in the fields where I can “create” and “build” the future by integrating the knowledge I’ve learned. I was attracted to the possibility of “creating the future.”

What hurdles or challenges (big or small) did you find as you pursued your career in STEM? What challenges do you face today?

I’ve never thought I experience specific hurdles or challenges because I am in the STEM fields. I face new problems and challenges to solve every day in the lab, just like everyone else working in different fields.

What or who was an inspiration or support for you?

My parents and my mentors throughout my undergraduate, graduate, and postdoc training.

Why is it important for women to be in STEM and specifically your field?

I believe that the most valuable innovation comes when people with a wide range of academic and cultural backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives are brought together in environments for open discussions.

What can be done to recruit more women into STEM?

On campus, we should provide more opportunities for young girls and women to participate in research activities in the labs and more community outreach programs to target K-12 students. In the national arena, we should feature more stories of female scientists and engineers of different ages.  

What advice would you give to girls and young women going into STEM?

I will quote Sir Winston Churchill: “Never, never give up.”