Class of 2024: Selina + Eric Laws Partner Up for Ph.D.

Posted on April 30, 2024

Eric and Selina Laws pose together in the hallway of the UNCG JSNN school.

First-generation student Selina Laws always knew she wanted to pursue her doctorate because she was determined to be an example for her family.  

Eric Laws had always been interested in academia, lured by the attraction of conducting research in a lab. 

What they didn’t know is that they would end up at the same University and in the same program—as a married couple.  

Selina and Eric Laws married in May 2019 and started their doctorate program in nanoscience at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (JSNN) in August 2019.  

On May 2, they will proudly walk together in regalia as not only new graduates but also new parents as they welcomed their first child in March. 

Sharing the JSNN Experience 

Going to graduate school with your partner is a unique experience. Selina and Eric had all their classes together for the first two years, but they let classmates figure out they were married.  

The Laws decided early on they would not discuss research at home, and they did work in separate research groups, but their labs were side by side. 

“Between Eric and I, and our respective research labs, we have access to every instrument in the school,” says Selina.  

The Laws did have to set boundaries with fellow students as they would come to Selina looking for Eric and vice versa. JSNN students eventually treated them as separate people with separate expertise. 

“We have different personalities, and we move differently in class and at work,” says Selina. 

Eric appreciated the couple’s daily lunches throughout their program: “We would eat lunch together, decompress, and have a personal conversation. This would reset us for the next half of the day.”  

Tough Start, Ample Support  

Selina and Eric started school in August 2019. COVID hit during their second semester, which both agreed was challenging.  

“The first year, when COVID hit, everything shut down. We were just trying to get our footings in the lab, but that came to a screeching halt because we could not be in lab,” says Eric. “The school wanted to reserve any available space for the seniors, rightfully so.” 

Fortunately, senior students produced videos with lab instructions to assist those unable to physically be there. After a year, Selina and Eric returned to the lab and furthered their training.  

That was just the beginning of the support the Laws discovered at JSNN.  

“My advisor Hemali Rathnayake was willing to go into lab with me and figure things out. As a student, you can be frustrated by a challenge, but she would just roll up her sleeves and join me in lab,” says Selina.  

She adds that JSNN students get hands-on experience with the instruments whereas other universities may not let students operate them. Selina was empowered to conduct her research from the ground-up, making and characterizing a new material independently.  

Impactful Research  

A self-proclaimed “lab rat,” Eric’s research focuses on manipulating and controlling bacterial motion. In the lab, he makes and functionalizes polymer nanoparticles, so they interact with bacteria. He then observes the bacteria to see how they move and how they appear.  

“My research ties into bioelectronics—making an electrode out of bacteria,” says Eric. “It could have many applications, for example, with water filtration of bacteria or drug delivery systems. In fact, there could be different ways to maximize CAT scans and MRIs if you modify these materials in the correct way.”  

Selina’s research focuses on designing new bio-inspired materials with water-loving and water-repelling components that self-organize. This is similar to how phospholipids self-organize to make up the cell wall or are employed as drug delivery vehicles. 

“My materials were created not only to organize with themselves but also with various metals,” says Selina. “The impact would be to provide a novel platform for advanced miniature devices, specifically developing property-specific multifunctional devices.” 

New Graduates, New Parents  

Eric and Selina pose with their newborn child in the hallway of UNCG JSNN school.

Just ahead of graduation, Selina and Eric welcomed a son into their family. As a new mother, Selina will focus her attention on the baby, but in the future, aspires to be a formulation scientist conducting research.  

Eric is applying to post-doctoral positions now and hopes to one day teach and run his own research lab.  

As they reflect on their UNC Greensboro experience, they offer words of advice to the students who will follow them. 

Selina says to “choose your advisors wisely, maybe even before entering your program,” and Eric champions the benefit of “students collaborating with one another more.”  

As new graduates and new parents, the Laws family embarks on a new path following graduation.  

Story by Amy Burtch, AMBCopy  
Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications  


Graduate Commencement: May 2 at the Greensboro Coliseum
Undergraduate: May 3 at the Greensboro Coliseum

Graduates and their families are encouraged to share their accomplishments on social media by tagging the University accounts and using the hashtags #UNCGGrad and #UNCGWay. Visit UNCG’s digital swag page for graduation-themed graphics, filters, and templates.

Mention @UNCG in celebratory posts on Instagram and X and @uncgreensboro on TikTok.  

Three masters graduates pose for a selfie in cap and gown.


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