Ling Huang, an associate professor of chemistry at Hofstra University, is coaching his students as they tackle topical issues using forensic science and biochemistry.
Among his nine years at the university, Huang has worked with 41 students; one of who is currently studying designer drug identification as a means to curb the opioid epidemic, while another is dissecting the often overlooked dangers of e-cigarette use.
The Salisbury resident was recognized for his dedication and achievements on May 18 when he earned Hofstra University’s 2018 Mentor of the Year award.
“A lot of [my former students] are really successful in their careers now,” he said. “And that’s the most rewarding part of my job — seeing them start as a really young scientist and become a professional.”
Nicole Homburger, a Merrick resident and incoming senior, will be working with Huang as a research assistant this summer. The two are creating a process to rapidly identify the components of designer drugs. Currently, when police officers find an unidentifiable substance, like a white powder, they can partially identify it using a presumptive test or send it to a lab and await the results, Huang said.
The professor explained that he and Homburger are using a screening process called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as a means to achieve results on-site and identify, in milligrams, how much of each drug is present in such substances. Their goal is to help law enforcement in their efforts to prevent the distribution of lethal designer drugs.
Keegan Rogers, a graduating senior from Denver, Colorado, also worked under Huang’s mentorship. With vape use spiking among teenagers and adults, the two studied thermal degradation as a way of breaking down what happens when an e-cigarette burns. Huang explained that the fluid is a combination of nicotine and various solvents which, when burned, can turn into carcinogenic aldehydes.
This fall, Rogers will be attending the University of Colorado, where he was accepted into a fully funded PhD program in toxicology.
“Normally, one would imagine that a mentor would dictate the process to his mentee, but Dr. Huang was more interested in having me get to an area of understanding myself, with his facilitation,” Rogers said. “In this way, Dr. Huang spoke to me and treated me like I was his peer. The research became ours.”
In addition to his teaching and mentoring duties, Huang is also the director of advanced instrumentation at Hofstra and supervises dozens of pieces of sophisticated equipment in the Chemistry Department’s laboratories.
He also handles alumni relations and, using LinkedIn, has created a network of 170 Hofstra alumni and faculty in chemistry, biochemistry, and forensic science. This year, he also volunteered as an American Chemical Society coach at Freeport High School, helping its science department improve the chemistry lab curriculum and research course.