Skip to main content

Student Spotlight: Casandra Moisanu

Casandra Moisanu Photo

Casandra 'Clover' Moisanu, a third-year Ph.D. student, is working with organic supramolecular assemblies in the Dichtel Research Group. Her most recent research on ion-paired frameworks demonstrated how molecular electronic spin qubits have great potential for use in quantum information science applications. Outside of the lab, she is an active member of NUBonD and also plays trumpet in the NU Basketball Band and Lakeside Pride Marching Ensemble.

What is the focus of your research in the Dichtel Group and how did you become interested in this area? 

I work on a relatively new class of materials called ion-paired frameworks. These materials were first made in our group by my mentor, Luke Skala (Ph.D. ’22). I knew I wanted to work on framework materials, and I thought I would be working on covalent organic frameworks, a pillar of the DRG, but when Luke showed me the single crystals of these ion-paired frameworks, I was hooked. They form beautiful structures, and I liked the idea that I would be able to explore their properties and get to make brand-new materials for the first time.

What do you enjoy most about working with the Dichtel Group? 

The people. Will is an incredibly thoughtful and supportive advisor, and the people in our group just get along really well. I think we have a way of knowing how to best support each other through each day, whether that’s helping each other out with research or talking about random topics. The fact that we all work on different areas of research also leads to some interesting discussions that often result in new ideas popping up in just casual conversations in (and out of) the office, which is pretty cool. 

What is the most effective way to explain what you do to a nonscientist? 

I love this question! I like to come up with different ways of explaining my research, especially because my family (like so many) is full of non-chemists, so I want them to be able to at least sort of get what I’m doing. This is how I explained it to my brother once: I research supramolecular host-guest organic crystals, and those crystals are kind of “fancy salts.” Do you know how table salt, NaCl, is composed of 2 ions (positive sodium and negative chloride) that come together in an ordered way? My crystals are also composed of positive and negative ions, but those ions are bigger than atoms; they’re molecules, and they hold multiple charges, so they need a third kind of molecule, a kind of donut-shaped one that we call a “host” to keep them stuck together- the positive and negative ions can come together in the host and formed ordered structures, aka crystals. My job is to figure out how to make new crystals of these types of structures and study their properties.

Can you tell me about one of the highlights of your academic career? 

The main one that came to mind was just getting to be a TA for lab courses and being involved with doing demos. It’s so rewarding to see the “lightbulb” moments that students have when a concept clicks for them or see them light up when something is exciting, and labs and demos are very conducive to those experiences. Labs and demos were my favorite parts of chemistry courses as an undergrad, so it was a fun experience being on the other side of the classroom and getting to facilitate them with enthusiasm. I also enjoy getting to do one of the first workshops for TA Training in the fall. I like helping the incoming cohort of graduate students get excited about being great TAs and showing them that teaching is a valuable part of their time here. It has been truly wonderful getting to work with and learn from some of our outstanding teaching line faculty (shoutout to Katie, Veronica, and Steph) and my fellow super Super TAs (shoutout to Dylan, Izzy, Kate, and Qinghua).

You are an active part of the graduate group NUBonD. Can you tell us a little about why you have dedicated some of your time in graduate school to the group? 

I joined the NUBonD (Northwestern University Building on Diversity) board towards the end of my first year and have been active with it ever since. A big reason why I joined is because of Emily McClure (Ph.D. ’23) – she introduced me to the group and showed me what events and initiatives they were working on, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. The group we have now (Alexis, Aaron, Nick, Ezra) works hard to create and sustain initiatives that promote a community of inclusivity and diversity of thoughts, ideas, and backgrounds here in the chemistry department. One of the greatest initiatives we have is the Faces of Science (FoS) Seminar Series – we invite chemistry professors from historically excluded backgrounds to Northwestern to give two talks: one about their personal journey in academia and the other about their research. This gives folks the chance to interact with a diverse group of speakers, and for me, it was really special to meet a nonbinary chemistry professor (Prof. R. Lee Penn) for the first time at our last event in April 2023. I feel fortunate to get to help put on events like this, and I’m greatly looking forward to our next FoS Seminar Series- coming up in May 2024! Hope to see you all there! 

In 10 years, where do you hope to be in your career? 

I hope in 10 years I am doing something where I’m making a difference, whether that’s teaching chemistry to the next generation of students or maybe working as a patent agent to help inventors secure their world-changing ideas, or some other career I don’t even know about yet. I enjoy helping people, and I want to be in a position where I can do that in the future, in whatever form that might take. 

 Aside from your work in chemistry, what hobbies do you enjoy? 

I play trumpet in the NU Basketball Band (NUBB). I started band in undergrad and just loved the atmosphere and getting to play some fun music with a great group of people, and I was thrilled to learn that graduate students could still play in the athletic bands here. Playing with NUBB has been fantastic, and I’m so happy basketball season is finally here! I’m also in the Lakeside Pride Marching Band (a local LGBTQ+ community band) where I also play trumpet- we got to parade on Halloween in the snow, which was just a blast. Outside of band, I like running, going on walks looking for clovers, watching hockey games, and riding my RipStik around.