Chemistry Doctoral Student Bonds with Nobel Laureates in Germany

Iain Oswald

Iain Oswald, a chemistry doctoral student who works in the lab of Dr. Julia Chan, attended the 65th annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany.

On a recent Tuesday, UT Dallas student Iain Oswald ate dinner with the man who discovered quasicrystals. The next day, he listened in while a Nigerian playwright read a short story. In the course of a week, Oswald, a chemistry doctoral student, had the chance to meet 65 Nobel laureates in fields ranging from chemistry to literature and physics at the 65th annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany.

“It was really cool to just pick the laureates’ brains,” said Oswald, who was among the 650 students who attended the meeting. “You never have an opportunity to do that. It was almost to the point that there’s so many around, you’re desensitized to the fact that these people are very important to the scientific community.”

Among the laureates in attendance were Albert Fert, the French physicist who helped discover giant magnetoresistance; Saul Perlmutter, the American astrophysicist who provided evidence that the expansion of the universe is accelerating; and Kailash Satyarthi, a children’s rights advocate from India. 

Oswald said he enjoyed listening to the lively conversation during a question-and-answer session between young scientists and Steven Chu, the former Secretary of Energy and 1997 Nobel Prize winner in physics.

He also sat next to a laureate for dinner twice during his stay, allowing for productive scientific dialogue to unfold.

from left, Albert Fert and Iain Oswald

Albert Fert (left), a French physicist who helped discover giant magnetoresistance, was one of the Nobel Laureates Oswald met.

“I actually sat at dinner with Dan Shechtman, who discovered quasicrystals,” Oswald said. “His research really threw a wrench in crystallography and the definition of what a crystal is. I was able to talk to him about my research, and he actually gave me some advice on different experiments to pursue.”

With the support of Dr. Julia Chan, professor of chemistry at UT Dallas, Oswald went with the intent to understand how laureates and fellow students approach research.

On campus, Oswald is a member of Chan’s lab, where they work on the synthesis and crystal growth of novel materials with magnetic, electrical and thermal properties that could be useful in energy applications.

“Iain got to meet highly motivated, top graduate students from all over the world doing research at the interface of physiology, medicine, physics and chemistry,” Chan said. “To discuss science one-on-one with many Nobel laureates and students around the world is such a great opportunity.”

Over the last 15 years, Chan has had four PhD students from her research group at Louisiana State University chosen to attend the meeting.

In between lectures and conversing with laureates, Oswald had time to sightsee, highlighted by a visit to the Austrian Alps. At the end of his week in Germany, he had one main takeaway.

“The biggest thing was the journey,” he said. “A lot of these Nobel laureates are at the top of their fields, the pinnacle of expertise in the research they’re doing. In their talks, they shared their stories on how they got to that point. There are different ways to get there — some change careers halfway through their life, others follow a straightforward path, and for some, it’s unexpected.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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