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Four UCSB Ph.D. Students Chosen to Attend Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany

Researchers listen to lectures by Nobel laureates during a previous Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.
Researchers listen to lectures by Nobel laureates during a previous Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. (Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting photo)

Four UC Santa Barbara Ph.D. students will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this summer to meet and mingle with 70 Nobel laureates on a picturesque island in Germany.

The four — Stacy Copp of physics, Matthew Gebbie and Gregory Su of materials, and Nikki Marinsek of dynamical neuroscience — are among 672 young scientists from 88 countries selected to participate in the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting June 28 to July 3.

Since 1951, Nobel laureates in chemistry, physics and physiology/medicine have convened annually in Lindau, located at the common border of Austria, Germany and Switzerland, for open and informal meetings with students, postdocs and young researchers. The laureates lecture on the topic of their choice in the mornings and participate in less formal, small-group discussions with the students and postdocs in the afternoons and some evenings.

The program is administered by ORAU (Oak Ridge Associated Universities) and is sponsored by ORAU, Mars Incorporated and the National Science Foundation.

The UCSB students went through a highly competitive, multistage application process. First came an application, letter of recommendation, resume and an essay explaining how attending the meeting could benefit their education and research. Once chosen as a UCSB nominee, the next stage involved national selection by the meeting’s sponsors (55 U.S. applicants were chosen), then the final international selection by the Lindau Council. UCSB was 4-for-4 this year, with all of the university’s nominees named participants for the 2015 meeting.

The Graduate Post interviewed the four 2015 Lindau participants to get their reactions to being selected and what they are most looking forward to; as well as two previous UCSB attendees, who described their experiences and offer advice to this year’s exceptional group. Here’s what they had to say:

Stacy Copp

Stacy Copp

Copp is a fourth-year Ph.D. student in physics whose research focuses on tiny fluorescent clusters of silver atoms that are encapsulated by DNA.

“I am studying how the sequence of DNA selects clusters of varying colors, and I am also using DNA as a tool to arrange these clusters on the nanoscale," she said. "Metal clusters are exciting because they exhibit properties that are characteristic of both molecules and metals, and their interactions are little-studied. We are hoping to explore these properties, with an eye toward applications in sensing, imaging, and optical materials.”

She first learned about the Lindau Meeting in 2013 from her co-advisor. But that year the meeting focused on chemistry, which was outside of her discipline. When she saw that this year’s meeting was interdisciplinary, she applied to be a UCSB nominee. Copp said the final round of competition focused on academic and research achievements as well as broader scientific interests.

She’s honored to have been selected.

“I feel a great responsibility to learn as much as I can from the experience and to bring what I learn back to my scientific community,” she said. “I am especially looking forward to the opportunities that this Lindau Meeting will offer to discuss the ‘big picture’ of science. As a fourth-year graduate student with one more year until graduation, I am thinking quite a bit about my next step as a postdoc, in part because I want to be sure that my future research will help to answer important scientific questions that will make this world a better place. This meeting will give me the opportunity to engage with some of the world's most accomplished scientific leaders, as well as the leaders of tomorrow. I am looking forward to the ideas we will come up with together and to the vision that we will create for our future.”

Matthew Gebbie

Matthew Gebbie

Gebbie is a fifth-year student pursuing a Ph.D. in materials science in the area of molecular and biomolecular materials. His research focuses on the chemistry and physics of solid-liquid interfaces, specifically, he says, on “two technologically important classes of materials: ionic liquids (relevant for numerous energy storage applications) and adhesive proteins (relevant for biomedical applications, like surgical glue). While these materials have very different applications,” he said, “I have discovered several fundamental similarities in the nano-scale physics that determine the behaviors and properties of these materials.”

Gebbie first learned about the program two years ago when a student in his research group, Steve Donaldson, was chosen to attend that year’s meeting, which centered on chemistry. See the 2013 GradPost article and read Donaldson’s impressions and advice below. Gebbie decided to apply for the university-level competition when his advisor, Professor Jacob Israelachvili, offered to nominate him.

“On a personal level,” Gebbie says, “this award came at the perfect time — right as I am seriously preparing to embark on my own career as an independent researcher. I know that the Lindau meeting will reignite my passion for basic scientific discovery. This is important, because basic scientific research aims to tackle very ambitious and complicated problems, so meaningful progress can take many years and requires tons of excitement and perseverance.”

Although he is “deeply fascinated by technical aspects of my scientific work,” it is the “human element” that is one of his favorite parts about science.

“I always relish meeting other researchers from diverse backgrounds, and I love learning about the stories behind history’s greatest scientific discoveries, so I am most excited about these two aspects of the Lindau meeting,” Gebbie said. “In particular, I will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get direct perspectives on some of the largest scientific discoveries in recent history, directly from the mouths of Nobel laureates.”

In a happy coincidence, Gebbie learned that Gregory Su, another materials student who entered UCSB at the same time, was also selected. Gebbie didn’t know that Su had even applied.

“Greg was one of the first students I met at UCSB, we were roommates for two years, we have both been heavily involved in the UCSB student group Graduate Students for Diversity in Science, and we have spent many hours hiking and rock climbing together," Gebbie said. "So I’m not only excited to be traveling to Germany with Greg, but I’m thinking that there may really be something to the idea of being a well-rounded and diverse scientist!”

Nikki Marinsek

Nikki Marinsek

Marinsek is a third-year Ph.D. student in dynamical neuroscience, a new interdisciplinary program that aims to understand the neural systems that support cognition and how they change over time. She uses a combination of behavioral and neuroimaging techniques to research what happens in the brain when individuals form, evaluate and update explanations.

She was “happily surprised” to pass the first two stages, “but I tried to remain cautiously optimistic until the final stage of the selection process. When I found out I was selected to attend the meeting, I was overwhelmed with excitement and appreciation, which hasn’t worn off yet.”

She says she is “deeply grateful” for “such an extraordinary opportunity to learn from top scientists and interact with researchers from around the world,” and she intends to make the most of it.

She looks forward to hearing the laureates’ lectures and meeting fellow young researchers.

“This year is the interdisciplinary meeting," Marinsek said, "so I am also looking forward to learning about topics that are outside the sphere of my own research. I also hope to form new research collaborations with other scientists.”

Gregory Su

Greg Su
Gregory Su

The fifth-year materials Ph.D. student researches organic electronics, or using carbon-based materials for applications in a variety of electronic applications such as solar cells, transistors and memory devices.

Su learned about the Lindau meeting a couple of years ago when other UCSB students were chosen for the honor, and he “heard great things about the experience.” He said that this year, his advisor encouraged him to apply, and he was fortunate to get through all of the application stages and be selected to attend.

“I feel incredibly privileged to have received this honor,” Su says. “As a graduate student who has attended several conferences, one where all the speakers are Nobel laureates is truly unique. Personally, the Lindau Meeting will not only allow me the chance to advance my scientific career, but also make personal connections and friendships with fellow students from around the world. And, of course, the chance to travel somewhere new is always something I look forward to!”

He also looks forward to meeting and interacting “with so many Nobel laureates who have been pioneers in the field,” he said. “It is often difficult to meet senior scientists at many conferences, so the concept of Lindau is especially unique in that regard. Additionally, meeting fellow peers in science will surely be beneficial to our future careers.”

                                                                        •        •

In 2013, chemical engineering Ph.D. student Steve Donaldson and Materials Ph.D. student Leah Kuritzky were among the U.S. delegation to the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. For them, the experience was inspirational, and the contacts and interactions with both the Nobel laureates and fellow researchers were invaluable.

“I gained a new perspective on Nobel Prize winners — they are normal people who happen to be great scientists,” Donaldson said. “In general, they didn't win their Nobel by seeking after it.”

“We spent each morning listening to lectures by the Nobel laureates,” Kuritzky said. “In the afternoons the laureates who had presented held breakout Q&A sessions in locations around the island. The evenings were filled with cultural events and dinners like Korean night and German night. The trip ended with a boat trip with the laureates to Manau island (also on Lake Constance), which was absolutely lovely.”

Meeting and socializing with the Nobel winners was obviously a highlight for Donaldson, but he says he also enjoyed making new friends from such countries as Denmark, Scotland, Nepal, Italy and Switzerland.

His advice to the 2015 UCSB winners: “It’s a busy and long week but take advantage of the opportunity and meet as many people as you can, both Nobel winners and your young researcher peers. Also, enjoy the German food and beer!”

Kuritzky agrees about the importance of making connections.

“Hundreds of students and young researchers from all over the world will be at the meeting, so sometimes it feels like a lot of competition to get time with the laureates,” she says. “But in reality, these young researchers are probably the best resource you'll meet in Lindau because as part of your generation, they will be in your scientific network for your entire career. They give you business cards for the meeting — give them all away!”

For more information, visit the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting page by clicking here.

— Patricia Marroquin is the communications director for the UCSB Graduate Division and writes for The Graduate Post.

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