Kent State Physics Doctoral Student to Attend Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting | Kent State University

Kent State Physics Doctoral Student to Attend Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting

Grad Student to Attend Prestigious Science Meeting

What does it take to become great in your field? Certainly motivation, dedication and creativity are important, but what about inspiration? For young scientists, that inspiration can come from a variety of places, including interactions with colleagues and especially the top scientists in their field. 

Lewis “Lee” Sharpnack, a Kent State University physics graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences, will get the opportunity of a lifetime to spend five days with 70 of the most accomplished and inspiring scientists in the world at the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau, Germany, this summer.  

Sharpnack, whose trip is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is one of 55 young researchers from the United States who will attend the meeting from June 28–July 3. Approximately 670 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.

Studying Liquid Crystals

His current research focuses on the structure of smectic liquid crystal phases and phenomena responsible for liquid crystal alignment in display devices. He conducts his research in Kent State Physics Professor Satyendra Kumar’s laboratory in the Science Research Building. Sharpnack is a co-author on their recent publication, “Thermotropic mesomorphism in catanionic surfactants synthesized from quaternary ammonium surfactants and sodium dodecylbenzene-sulfonate: Effect of chain length and symmetry” in the journal Colloids and Surfaces A: Physicochemical and Engineering Aspects.

Sharpnack uses high-resolution X-ray reflectivity and diffraction and atomic force microscopy to look at the structure of the liquid crystalline materials and the structure of variously prepared substrates that align liquid crystals.

“I like the broad applicability of X-rays,” Sharpnack said. “They allow you to study any materials on Earth. Liquid crystals are fantastic materials to study, and they’re not easy to work with, which makes them that much more interesting.”

Meeting Nobel Laureates

The purpose of the Lindau Meeting is to foster the interactions between Nobel Laureates and young researchers. After a festive opening that includes several guests of honor, Sharpnack and his fellow students will attend presentations given by the laureates and closed meetings between laureates and young scientists. He’ll also have the opportunity to present his work on smectic liquid crystal phases and discuss it with both his peers and a laureate.

“This is quite an honor for Lewis, and he’ll benefit greatly from this experience,” said James Blank, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Kent State. “The informal atmosphere and the intensive peer-to-peer contact will certainly provide him a unique and transformative experience, which is crucial for scientific exchange and inspiration.”

Sharpnack will attend social events, including a Bavarian evening sponsored by the Free State of Bavaria; concerts; academic dinners organized by organizations such as the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the German Research Foundation, and the Max Planck Society; and an international get-together hosted by the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research.

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 in the grounds of the castle.

“It is really encouraging for students to get invited to such meetings,” said Kumar, who serves as Sharpnack’s Ph.D. advisor. “Students tend to come back from these meetings with a great deal of excitement and inspiration, which they invariably impart to fellow students. It is of benefit to not just Lee, but also other science students at Kent State University.”  

The selection of the young researchers that attend each Lindau meeting is made in cooperation with the meeting’s academic partners. Participants are nominated by more than 100 institutions, including the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, both major agencies that sponsor research in the United States.

Traveling to Europe

A native of Sebring, Ohio, Sharpnack said he is excited to go to the meeting, especially since he has never been to Europe.

“I’m not really sure what to expect, but based on what I’ve read about the meeting, I’m really looking forward to all of it,” Sharpnack said. “I’ve never met a Nobel Laureate before, so I’m really looking forward to this opportunity. Learning how Nobel Laureates approach their research would yield new perspectives on my own approach to research.”  

Sharpnack earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Kent State in 2007 before taking graduate coursework at Case Western Reserve University and the University of California, Irvine. After earning a doctorate at Kent State, he hopes to find a postdoctoral position at a national laboratory and pursue a research career.  

Previously, three Kent State physics students – Sara Ubaid, Tanya Ostapenko and Ben Norman – also attended Lindau meetings.

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