Chemistry Graduate Student Andrew Lew describes his research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.
Andrew Lew is originally from Redondo Beach, California and is currently finishing his final semester at MIT, where he has spent the last five years. As a member of Markus Buehler’s group in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Andrew uses molecular dynamics simulations along with data-driven AI models to design materials with tailored mechanical properties. “I have generated materials that have bespoke fracture paths, hardness values, or toughness values,” said Andrew. “I chose to pursue a PhD in Chemistry to deepen my understanding of the fundamental relationship between material structures and their properties, and to advance the frontiers of materials design paradigms.”
As the subject of this month’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Andrew reveals the best vacation he’s ever taken, the scented candle of his dreams, the unique home he’d build with unlimited funds, and more!
- If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
Practice current hobbies such as painting, pick up new skills like learning a language, or catch up on media that people have recommended to me!
- What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
After graduating from undergrad, I visited Taipei and various cities in Japan with college friends. It was my first time outside the U.S., and it was surreal to experience in person all these things I’ve only seen through media!From when we landed, everything felt ever so slightly “different” – like I was miscalibrated to the environment.It was later I realized this was probably because everything was in metric. The widths of stair steps, doors, sidewalk rails, everything would be in terms of meters and centimeters instead of imperial units. So, in reality, the environment probably really was very slightly proportioned away from what my perception was used to!
- Who would be the best person you could be stuck in an elevator with?
I’d have to say an elevator maintenance expert.
- If you were given five million dollars to open a small museum, what kind of museum would you create?
A video game museum. In the evolution of storytelling media from written text to motion picture, I wholeheartedly believe that video games are the next step for expressing deep, immersive, complex experiences to one another. They uniquely add layers of interactability and audience agency that are inaccessible to previous forms of media. In some sense, motion picture and written texts are merely subsets of what video games as a media can accomplish.While “video games as art” is still in its relative nascency, there are already pieces of video game history that risk being lost forever, as physical consoles are continually deprecated over the years and the current trend of live-service games makes archival efforts difficult. It is always a shame to hear about “lost media” in reference to literary and film works. So too will the future feel the loss of the impactful video games of today, if deliberate conservation efforts are not taken seriously.
- What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
Overall plot and backstory explanations untangling any of a few recent games I’ve spent way too much time thinking about – such as for Honkai Impact 3rdor the Kingdom Hearts series!
- What irrational fear do you have?
Heights. I physically feel tingling in my legs regardless of what I might try to reason.
- If you could have a never-ending candle that smelled like anything you wanted, what fragrance would you want it to be?
KBBQ. I love KBBQ. I love when things smell like KBBQ after I go to KBBQ. I’d probably have that candle on when I’m not eating KBBQ, to imagine that I am eating KBBQ.
- What was your favorite book as a child, and what is your favorite book now?
As a child, the Pendragon series by D.J. MacHale. More recently, I’ve really enjoyed Foundation by Isaac Asimov. Both stories deal with themes of “societal turning points”.
- If you could pick any career other than the one you’ve chosen, what would it be?
Perhaps something like an animation artist. At the close of high school, I considered majoring in art over STEM. However, there are challenges in that industry that prevent it from being my “dream career” and ultimately, I am quite satisfied with my current path.
- What did you think was going to be amazing but turned out to be horrible?
Final Fantasy XV, or as it was known originally, Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Back when I was in 6th grade, this game was announced to be “Shakespearean” in influence, “a fantasy based in reality” crossing fantastical magic and monsters with a more grounded modern-day mafia setting, and it was said to be the passion project of a particular director’s creative vision…Cue an incredibly tortured development cycle over 10 years of delays that involved the transfer of that original director to other projects and the tone of the game dramatically shifting. The result was an unfinished, cobbled together collection of concepts across multiple media formats. The original opening sequence of the game was sliced off to become a feature length CGI movie featuring random side characters. Crucial main character development was relegated to a series of animated vignettes. The base game itself was incomplete, pending a years-later-released director’s cut patch and DLC episodes to fill in large gaps of the plot. To top it all off, the replacement director ended up leaving the company in the midst of these DLC releases, so the planned finale to the whole project was cancelled. Eventually, the script for the cancelled finale was later released as a novella, bringing a quiet end to the whole ordeal.Individually, I acknowledge the passion and effort put into each piece of this project, and I did genuinely enjoy aspects here and there. I just wish we were able to see what the original, unified vision could have been…
- What food do you crave most often?
Curry. Japanese curry, Indian curry, Thai curry – they are all fantastic.
- What are you most looking forward to in the next decade?
The positive impacts that AI can have on society.
- What’s something common from your childhood that will seem strange to future generations?
The boredom of waiting. As a child, it would be common to wait around with nothing to do. But now we are always connected to an infinite amount of content and entertainment, one click away in our pockets…
- What skill would you like to master?
Optimized self-control. I’m imagining for example, being able to fall asleep at night and wake up in the mornings on command, to push through tedious tasks by will, and to consistently succeed at difficult but doable tasks. Obviously, there are limitations to the human body, but I’d like to maximize self-agency and minimize executive dysfunction.
- If you had unlimited funds to build a house that you would live in for the rest of your life, what would the finished house be like?
As an idealized but vague vision, I always imagined a plot of land with a central courtyard. There would be some sort of water feature, and a tree. Overall, nature would intermingle with modern life, visibly utilizing wood and stone with glass and metal… The concept would be something like a cross between a traditional sìhéyuàn and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.
- What are your top three favorite movies?
The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003). Extended editions of course.
- What would be the most amazing adventure to go on?
The adventure I’d be most amazed at would probably be the adventure I least expect. In service of this, I’ll minimize my projected expectations here, in order to keep this space of opportunities as large as possible. 🙂
- What hobby would you get into if time and money weren’t an issue?
Without time and money as constraints, I could see indie game development being a pretty artistically rewarding hobby. Deadline crunches and budgetary concerns are some of the heaviest detractors from the quality of work and the wellbeing of people involved, after all. Of course, the same could be said about other creative industries as well, like cinema. In that sense, making animated/CGI shorts would be another hobby I’d be interested in too.
- What problem or situation did TV / movies make you think would be common, but when you grew up you found out it wasn’t?
“Overcoming all obstacles to pursue one’s dream”. Putting aside the difficulty of doing so, it seems it’s unexpectedly rare for people to even identify what goals they want to head toward in the first place…
- If you could know the absolute and total truth to one question, what question would you ask?
“What is the most important thing for me to know?”
Many thanks to Andrew for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come.