Alumni Profile: David Cao (’14)

David Cao (left) and his fellow 2012-2013 PAAs

Campuswide Honors Program alumnus, David Cao (Chemistry ’14), is known in the CHP community as a great photographer and a former Peer Academic Advisor. However, David’s true passion for many years has been research in his field of study, Chemistry.

Currently working toward his Ph.D. in Chemistry at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), David credits his involvement in research to the CHP: “One of my honors general chemistry professors helped set me up with research in one of his colleague’s labs my freshman year, which helped me get to where I am today thanks to the many years of research experience and the connections I made with others.”

Describing his graduate research project, David says, “My current research involves fundamentally understanding, on a molecular level, how to make plastics electrically conductive. Through the use of particular additives, we can make certain plastics with a particular chemical structure electrically conductive. I try to understand how this happens on the level of molecular bonds using a wide range of chemical and electrical analysis techniques.”

David credits the CHP core courses with helping him draw connections and communicate effectively, which has contributed to his success as a scientist. “The [CHP] core classes I took gave me a deep appreciation for how many of the fields are interconnected and in many ways, need each other. For example, when scientists are writing a paper for scientific publication, we are actually telling a story—one made more compelling by how well we write it.” His application for a 2016 research grant through the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP), which was ultimately successful, was one such story. On working through this application, he says, “I thought about my journey, my story, and how that ties in with my passions and future dreams. This was really important and something that took a bit of time to figure out as the NSF GRFP is not funding the proposed research, but the student for their future potential.”

When he’s not busy in his lab, David sings with the UC Santa Barbara Chamber Choir, photographs his travels, and is working his way through BBC’s list of “100 Books You Must Read Before You Die.”

Looking back fondly on his time in the CHP, he most enjoyed, “Being around other people who see the world in gray instead of black and white, who think deeply about the world and their place in it, and who are not afraid to push themselves and explore.” To current students, he recommends the website to, “Figure out what are you passionate about, and what is most important to you in life. Go through that process with your friends – talk about it on late night boba runs, or during a study break, or over a meal. And then let those thoughts guide your exploration in college and in life.”