Invitation to Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting Is ‘Icing on the Cake’ for Doctoral Student
As if graduating with your Ph.D., starting a National Research Council (NRC) postdoctoral fellowship, getting married in Nepal and organizing an international research seminar wasn’t already a full plate for Kent State University doctoral student Greta Babakhanova, how about a little dessert?
Ms. Babakhanova, a chemical physics graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences, who will graduate on May 10, will experience the opportunity of a lifetime: spending five days with 42 of the most accomplished and inspiring scientists in the world at the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau, Germany, this summer. It is “icing on the cake” for Ms. Babakhanova, who is now seeing the benefits of her hard work and determination to overcome major life obstacles.
When Life Hits Hard
It was no easy road to success for Ms. Babakhanova, who says she always aspired to work in the biomedical field. Born in the former Soviet Union, by age six she had to work to help her large family survive. At 15, she immigrated to the United States with only elementary knowledge of the English language. By age 19, she had to be completely self-reliant, balancing college, internships and multiple jobs on the San Jose State University campus.
Facing financial hardship, she learned the basics of business and started her own graphic arts and photography business, which she ran successfully for four years. Though it was a difficult time in her life, she kept fighting and always fell back on advice from her father to “keep moving forward.”
(Writer’s note: During our interview, Ms. Babakhanova made a point to show me this clip from the motion picture “Rocky Balboa” because Rocky Balboa’s chilling speech to his son reminds her a lot of the type of motivating advice she received from her father. View this YouTube clip from “Rocky Balboa.”
“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are. It will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.” – Rocky Balboa
Following Her Passion
With financial hardships and an uncertain future during her senior year of undergraduate studies, she took a big risk: a leave of absence from San Jose State to go back to a community college to study nursing. Realizing the importance of physical sciences in understanding biomedical issues, she went back to the university and completed a degree in physics, which subsequently led her to join the Chemical Physics Interdisciplinary Program (CPIP) at the Advanced Materials and Liquid Crystal Institute (AMLCI) at Kent State.
She recently defended her dissertation “Elastic Effects in Flexible Dimeric and Elastomer Nematics” under the direction of Trustees Research Professor Oleg Lavrentovich, Ph.D., of the Department of Physics and AMLCI. His lab proved to be the perfect place for her to conduct interdisciplinary research. She took advantage of fruitful research collaborations with both on-campus colleagues in the Department of Physics and Department of Biological Sciences as well as international colleagues at Eindhoven University of Technology in Netherlands and the Otto-von-Guericke-Universitat in Magdeburg, Germany.
Though she was involved in various projects, primarily characterizing twist-bend nematic liquid crystal materials and elastomers, throughout her graduate school career, she always wanted to use liquid crystals to explore biological problems. Most recently, she utilized the elastic and anisotropic material properties of liquid crystals to induce alignment and differentiation of biological cells and co-authored several recent journal articles, including Nature Communications, on related topics.
“I am eager to implement interdisciplinary approaches to solve problems in regenerative medicine,” Ms. Babakhanova said. “I am especially passionate about forming collaborations with experts from numerous fields to progress science and prevent human suffering as much as possible. It is fascinating to detect patterns via experimentation and describe underlying mechanisms using fundamental laws of science.”
In Dr. Lavrentovich’s lab, she used a wide variety of research methods, tools and techniques to characterize soft matter, including freeze-fracture transmission electron microscopy (FFTEM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM), three-dimensional optical microscopy based on fluorescence polarized confocal microscope (FCPM) and its sub-millisecond version, just to name a few.
“Out of the 20 or so graduate students I’ve directed to their Ph.D., Greta is number one in the variety of experimental techniques she is proficient in,” Dr. Lavrentovich said. “She is a hard-working person, with a keen interest in anything new in the field of science and a desire to contribute with her own work. If she will continue to combine these traits, the sky is the limit.”
Her strong leadership abilities have been recognized by many, on and off the Kent Campus, including her peers participating in the upcoming Gordon Research Seminar on Liquid Crystals who selected her as the event chairperson. She has served in multiple student organizations, including Graduate Student Senate, and even started her own: the KSU Student Alliance, which inspires, engages and supports students through educational and collaborative engagements. To see her full curriculum vita, visit www.lavrentovichgroup.com/Greta_Babakhanova_CV.pdf.
Department of Physics Professor Robin Selinger, Ph.D., has known Ms. Babakhanova since she joined the Ph.D. program in fall 2014 and recently worked with her on a collaborative project.
“Right away, she stood out as the one grad student most likely to ask insightful questions at seminars, to engage in scientific discussion with visitors and faculty, and to undertake leadership roles in student organizations,” Dr. Selinger said.
The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting
Since 1951, around 30-40 Nobel Laureates convene annually at Lindau, Germany, to meet the next generation of leading scientists from all over the world. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting offers scientists numerous opportunities to inspire and network with one another. This year’s meeting is dedicated to physics and the key topics of cosmology, laser physics and gravitational waves. To learn more about the Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting, visit www.lindau-nobel.org.
Ms. Babakhanova is one of 55 young researchers from the United States who will attend the meeting from June 30 to July 5. Approximately 580 outstanding students, Ph.D. candidates and postdoctoral researchers from 88 countries are invited each year from the three natural science Nobel Prize disciplines: medicine and physiology, physics and chemistry. They have successfully passed a multistage international selection process. About 140 science academies, universities, foundations and research-oriented companies contributed to the nominations.
After a festive opening that includes several guests of honor, Ms. Babakhanova and her fellow students will attend presentations given by the laureates and closed meetings between laureates and young scientists. She will also have the opportunity to present her work on liquid crystals and discuss it with both her peers and a laureate.
Besides attending lectures and panel discussions, Ms. Babakhanova will attend social events, including a Bavarian evening sponsored by the Free State of Bavaria, a concert, academic dinners and an international get-together hosted by South Africa.
The last day of the meeting features a joint boat ride from Lindau on the invitation of the State of Baden-Württemberg across Lake Constance to the island of Mainau, the seat of the Bernadotte family, where there is a final panel discussion, farewell ceremony and picnic on the Arboretum Lawn.
“Greta has shown outstanding leadership abilities and is always a very active participant in conferences and meetings, eager to discuss her research and the research of others,” Dr. Lavrentovich said. ”She will definitely benefit from participation and will bring back the experience to her peers at Kent State and other conferences.”
“I am very excited about making life-long connections at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting,” Ms. Babakhanova said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect with some of the most curious and diverse minds in the world. I love getting to know people and learning about their experiences.”
Ms. Babakhanova said that making personal connections is one of the most important things in her life.
“I am inspired to attain my career goals in order to have an opportunity to open doors for students who are curious and hardworking,” Ms. Babakhanova said. “I would love to be an active member of the Lindau Alumni Network and help the worldwide scientific community with my expertise and connections. Once upon a time, several people gave me a chance, and that played an essential role in my career. I am motivated to do the same and to help other passionate students in need.”
Previously, four Kent State students – Lewis Sharpnack, Sara Ubaid, Tanya Ostapenko and Ben Norman – also attended Lindau meetings.
Pursuing a Career in Academia
Ms. Babakhanova plans to broaden her knowledge in the biomedical fields and pursue a career in academia. She recently secured an NRC postdoctoral fellowship in the Biomaterials Research Group led by Carl Simon Jr., Ph.D., at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
“Together with my training in physics and material science, I hope to form a research group in an academic setting where I would be able to mentor students,” Ms. Babakhanova said. “I love interacting with students and watching them grow. I would be very happy if together with my mentees, we would be able to advance science and reduce human suffering.”
A Union of Two Physicists
On April 18, Ms. Babakhanova married Jagat Budhathoki, Ph.D., in his native country of Nepal. They met at Kent State, and he is a Ph.D. alumnus of Kent State’s Department of Physics and current postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University. (We wish them nothing but the best!)
To learn more about the Advanced Materials and Liquid Crystal Institute, visit www.kent.edu/amlci.
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Jim Maxwell, 330-672-8028, email@example.com