Materials PhD Students to Join 42 Nobel Laureates at Lindau Meeting This Summer

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Two UC Santa Barbara Materials PhD students will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet and learn from more than 40 Nobel Laureates this summer in Germany. Joshua Bocarsly and Elayne Thomas, both fourth-year graduate students, are among 580 young scientists from 88 countries selected to participate in the 69th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting from June 31 to July 5. This year’s meeting is dedicated to physics, with key topics including laser physics, cosmology, and gravitational waves.

“I am honored to be a part of a community that connects young minds with those who are unraveling the mysteries of the world and have received the highest honor in science,” said Thomas, who is co-advised at UCSB by professors Rachel Segalman, chair of the Chemical Engineering Department, and Michael Chabinyc, Materials Department chair. “A former lab mate went to the 65th Lindau Meeting and had an incredible time connecting with other talented students around the world. I am ecstatic to participate in and continue this tradition.”

“As someone who knows he wants to make a career in scientific research, it is exciting to get this opportunity to learn from people who have found their voices, and in doing so, already made tremendous impacts on the world,” said Bocarsly, who is co-advised by Ram Seshadri, a professor in the departments of Materials, and Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Stephen Wilson, an associate professor in the Materials Department. “It will also be great to meet other up-and-coming scientists in my own generation.”

Since 1951, Nobel Laureates in chemistry, physics, physiology, and medicine have convened annually in Lindau, which is located at the border of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. Nobel Laureates participate in informal meetings with undergraduate and graduate students, post-docs, and young researchers. The Laureates lecture on topics of their choice in the mornings and participate in group discussions the remainder of the day. A select number of students will present their research to the Laureates and receive feedback and advice from them as part of a master class. 

“Apart from attending talks given by those who are extremely passionate about their work, I am most excited about the congregation of students and postdoctoral fellows from nearly ninety countries,” said Thomas. “Learning more about different approaches to science in a diverse community such as the Lindau Meeting can further guide how I approach problems in my own research.”

Thomas’s research at UCSB focuses on understanding the fundamental processes of doped polymeric semiconductors. Doping refers to adding small molecules to oxidize or reduce a polymer, which generates charge carriers to conduct electricity. She studies how the presence  of the dopants influences the electronic and crystalline structure of semiconducting polymers. 

“This work can ultimately lead to the design of high-performance materials for organic thermoelectric generators, organic light emitting diodes, and organic field-effect transistors,” she said. 

Present-day air conditioners and refrigerators work by compressing and decompressing fluids that are harmful to the environment. Bocarsly’s research focuses on the design and study of new magnetic materials that could be used for magnetic refrigeration, providing an environmentally friendly replacement for conventional refrigerators. 

“Energy use and direct greenhouse gas emissions from refrigerators and air conditioners have a large environmental impact. As the developing world industrializes, this impact is rapidly growing, so even small improvements have the potential for a big impact,” Bocarsly said. 

UCSB will be one of the most represented American universities in Lindau. Five of the 67 young scientists selected from American institutions are UCSB students. Joining Bocarsly and Thomas are three representatives from UCSB’s Physics Department: Dolev Bluvstein, an undergraduate student; Jared Goldberg, a graduate student; and Yu Saito, a post-doc. 

“Considering the excellent group of applicants, the selection proved to be very challenging,” says Rainer Blatt, professor at the Institute of Experimental Physics at the University of Innsbruck, one of two scientific chairmen of this year’s meeting. “The percentage of women among the participants is 34 percent, which is good by international standards, considering that in physics men are still clearly in the majority.” 

Since 2004, meeting organizers say 33 young scientists from UCSB have been invited to the Lindau Meeting. Thomas and Bocarsly are not surprised by the large contingent of participants from UCSB. 

“The unique culture of collaboration between students and faculty across campus, together with access to cutting-edge facilities and faculty, allow us to continually engage in innovative and multidisciplinary research,” said Thomas.  

The three Nobel Laureates from UCSB’s College of Engineering, Herbert Kromer (materials and electrical and computer engineering), Alan J. Heeger (physics and materials), and Shuji Nakamura (materials and electrical and computer engineering) will not attend the meeting. David J. Gross, Chancellor’s Chair in Theoretical Physics and former director of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UCSB, will be among the 42 Nobel Laureates attending the meeting. Gross received the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering asymptotic freedom in the theory of the strong interaction. 

“Honestly, I don’t know what the week in Lindau will be like with 42 Nobel Laureates around. But I am eager to find out,” said Bocarsly. 

PhD students Elayne Thomas and Joshua Bocarsly

PhD students Elayne Thomas and Joshua Bocarsly