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Candy Hwang Seeks the Secrets of Nitrogenase

Cindy Hwang won a people's choice award for her video on nitrogenase.
Candy Hwang, NSF graduate research fellow, won a people’s choice award and second place in a video about nitrogen fixation and her research.
(Image: © NSF.)

This ScienceLives article was provided to LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

University of Southern California chemistry graduate student Candy Hwang won second prize and the People's Choice Award in a December 2012 video contest sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), "Creating the Future."

Hwang’s 90-second video, "The Secrets of Nitrogenase," is a lively, colorful animation that sketches out the story of industrial nitrogen fixation and her interest in helping to develop more environmentally friendly fixation methods than those industry currently uses. Nitrogen fixation is a process in which nitrogen, which has very durable chemical bonds, is converted into ammonia and thus made more available for use as a nutrient (or other product).

Nitrogen is a key macronutrient in fertilizers, and thus helps farms feed the world. Hwang's research as a doctoral student involves studying the biosynthesis of ammonia — specifically, microbial fixation by the enzyme nitrogenase. "If we can figure out how this enzyme does this chemistry, we could improve our own catalysts for these industrial processes," she says. This would, in turn, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels that power the industrial nitrogen fixing, which is an energy-intensive process.

Below, Hwang answers our 10 questions.

Name: Candy Hwang Age: 24 Institution: University of Southern California Field of Study: Chemistry

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