National Medal of Science

President Obama honors two of University of Texas at Austin’s best: Dr. John B. Goodenough (my boss!) and Dr. Allen J. Bard.

You can see Dr. Bard get his National Medal of Science at [10:10] in the above video, and Dr. Goodenough get his at [15:15].

The transcript of the occasion can be found here.

Dwarfs Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

There is a risk in the sciences of losing the creativity and the courage to boldly pursue completely untested hypotheses and ideas. And while this can’t be avoided in graduate school (at least for the way we currently do graduate school: students basically do the research their advisers tell them to do in order to get the field’s merit badge–a Ph.D.), it’s important not to let the creative juices dry up during this period.

After all… some day (hopefully), you’ll be the one laying out a direction for a team of wide-eyed and terrified kids who just spent the last four years drinking too many beers. And when that time comes what kinds of problems are you going to try to be solving? The problems at the margins?

I’d encourage everyone (mostly myself: this post is really a reminder to me, rather than a plea to you, dear reader) to heed my professor’s advice. (He’s no slouch himself, Dr. John B. Goodenough just received the National Medal of Science.)

He said this to a room full of chemists he was giving a talk to back in the day: “Stop fiddling around the edges and do something useful.”

By which he meant that we shouldn’t be afraid to blaze our own trails. It’s the high-risk high-reward ventures that really have the chance to make a difference in this world.

Ok… now back to the lab.


John B. Goodenough Symposium in Materials Science & Engineering

It’s a long title… but it represents a long legacy. I meant to recap the symposium that was put on in honor of my advisor’s 90th birthday sooner (it was Oct. 26-27), but life and work–mostly work, I am a grad student after all–kept getting in the way.

It was a really impressive event, and a lot of credit is due to the organizers Jianshi Zhou (my co-supervisor) and Arumugam “Ram” Manthiram. And equal credit is due to the behind-the-scenes organizers who included Lauren Murrah, Christy Aletky and others.

Something on the order of 200 scientists all specializing in Transition Metal Oxides and Lithium Ion Batteries came in from all around the world. Two fields of Materials Science/Solid-State Chemistry/Condensed Matter Physics that were birthed, in large part, from the mind of John B. Goodenough.

On Friday, we were able to mingle with everybody, and I was able to show my poster (which I posted about before the event). I’m not particularly good at networking, but I was able to have a couple of really great conversations that evening.

The first was with Dr. Laura Lewis of Northeastern University in Boston. We started discussing some of my research and also some of the work I’ve been able to do up on the synchrotron. But beyond that we were able to have a great conversation about different things I should be looking for as I move along the last year of my program and start looking toward next year. I’m really grateful for the chance I had to pick her brain!

Another great conversation was an impromptu talk by Dr. Gang Cao of the University of Kentucky. He has been able to move forward a lot of research in the 4d and 5d transition metals (especially concerning the Iridates), so it was fascinating to get caught up on his findings, and have a relatively informal conversation about the slides he was presenting to a little band of 6-8 of us. It had a great feeling of camaraderie and community discovery which sometimes gets lost in the day-to-day of working in a lab. It was really refreshing and invigorating.

Saturday was a series of very good lectures both on the history of the fields (stories of the early days), and in the most modern applications (like the possibilities of Lithium-Air batteries and the like). They were great.

I especially enjoyed the talk by Dr. José Antonio Alonso of the Insituto de Ciencias de Materiales de Madrid in Spain regarding high-pressure perovskite phases of the transition metal oxides. Mostly because it was highly relevant to my own research. And because I’ve collaborated with him on these topics before when I spent a couple weeks in Spain last year learning some experimental techniques from him and others in his  lab.

So Happy Birthday to the boss-man! The event in your honor was amazing, as is your storied career. Many congratulations.

The only thing missing from this post is a copy of the short video that features Dr. Goodenough himself. He tells a couple great anecdotes, so I will try to track down a copy to post. In the meantime, the man himself giving his talk at dinner:

Presenting My Research

My boss is having a conference put on in his honor. I guess that’s how you know you’re a big wig in the field: when colleagues decide that the best way to celebrate your 90th birthday is to bring in around 190 scientists from across the globe to talk about progress in a field of research you basically invented… I think it’s safe to say you’ve “made it”.

Tonight is the poster session part of the John B. Goodenough Symposium in Materials Science and Engineering (the invited talks are tomorrow). For those of you who are unfamiliar, a poster session is basically when graduate students lay out some aspect of their research on a big sheet of paper and hang it up in a big room where other graduate students do the same. It’s pretty much a science fair for grownups.

The graduate students then stand in front of their posters nervously sorta-kinda wanting one of the visiting professors to take interest and sorta-kinda wanting to be left alone for fear of feeling stupid. As you progress in your graduate career, the hope is you start to want the former rather than the latter.

Since I’m trying to wrap up during the next year, and have talked about this subject a few times (including at the APS March Meeting this year), I’m definitely feeling like I want to present my poster. Which is comforting. Because I also am going to try and impress everybody who comes up to me to the point they want to hand me a job next year…

We’ll see. In any case, it’ll be a good experience just getting comfortable in with “networking,” which has never come naturally for me.

For those who are interested, you can see my poster here.