Michelle Wong moved to Sydney from Hong Kong at age 3 with her parents, who were nurses. She was surrounded at home by anatomy and psychology textbooks, which she enjoyed reading. But her parents, noting the difficult work-life balance for doctors, encouraged her to pursue law or accounting over medicine. Her interest in chemistry began in high school, at lunchtime Chemistry Olympiad lessons with a friend. “It was like a social event, really,” Wong says. At the University of Sydney, she pursued a combined science and law degree. For her honors degree, she worked on a project synthesizing and investigating cyclic peptides for drug development and supramolecular applications, with a specific focus on pseudoproline residues. Deciding to stay on the project and earn a PhD, Wong left law behind.
“As a PhD student I didn’t have that much disposable income, but I had tons of time,” Wong says. She spent some of her breaks between experiments trying to better understand the personal care products she wanted to buy and the chemistry behind their claims. At the university, she had full access to all the scientific journals, which allowed her to dig deeper, she adds. To keep track of what she learned and share it with other inquiring minds, Wong began her blog, Lab Muffin Beauty Science, in 2011.
Wong began teaching at Matrix Education, a tutoring company, in 2014. She was promoted to chemistry coordinator at Matrix later that year and created classroom materials for teachers. “It actually linked really well with what I was doing with my content creation because it was basically just content creation about chemistry in a slightly different context.” Wong realized she had much more freedom teaching than she did with her blog or even her Instagram account. “I could move things around; I could draw diagrams; I could use my hands,” she says. Those abilities made those platforms feel static and restrictive by comparison.
This realization led her to start a YouTube channel in 2017, and it quickly climbed in popularity. She left Matrix in 2019 to devote all her energy to Lab Muffin Beauty Science but continues to tutor part time. Wong has produced several viral hits, including a video explaining why recipes for home hand sanitizer early in the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t contain sufficient alcohol to be effective and another on whether you need to wear sunscreen inside. Her videos have over 14 million views to date. “I do want to amplify science communication within the beauty community,” she says.