Nobel Laureates speak to grad students abroadBy Becky Robinson | 07/16/2013 11:00pm
When Steven Kelley became a graduate student studying inorganic chemistry, he had no idea he would have the opportunity to listen to the 2013 Nobel Laureates speak in Lindau, Germany.
“This was actually my first time travelling abroad,” Kelley said. “I enjoyed it a lot. There was in general a huge emphasis on international culture at the meeting, so I wound up meeting and hanging out with many people from all parts of the world.”
Michele Stover, a graduate student studying physical chemistry, was the other UA student selected to attend the conference.
“It was absolutely amazing – truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Stover said. “It is hard to explain in words, but there is one thing I do know: I have never before felt more inspired and encouraged to continue performing my own research.”
At the conference, which was held the last week of June and featured the Nobel Laureates in the field of chemistry, Kelley and Stover had the chance to meet some of the scientific minds whose research and methods they use in classes at the University.
“My favorite speakers were Ada Yonath, Walter Kohn, Steven Chu and Mario Molina,” Stover said. “Ada Yonath, who is the only living female Nobel Laureate in chemistry, said a few special words of encouragement to the female graduate students. Walter Kohn won his Nobel prize for developing density functional theory, a method that I use everyday in my research at UA.”
Stover also said Chu and Molina discussed climate change, an issue that resonated with her.
“I have heard many times before how important environmental chemistry is, and I have believed it,” she said. “However, after hearing these two professors speak and multiple panels on the subject, I cannot help but feel a since of urgency for the solution to these problems.”
For Kelley, one aspect of the trip that stood out to him was getting to see the “human” side of the Laureates, who are often presented very academically.
“What left the biggest impression on me, however, was that every Laureate I heard speak knew their work and their field inside and out, front to back,” Kelley said. “They were astonishingly sharp, and it really gave me a concrete image of what we ought to aspire to be as scientists and future educators.”
To participate in the trip, each potential student is first nominated by a professor at The University of Alabama. Once the University approves their application, the student can appeal to an organization for funding. In Stover’s case, she went to the National Science Foundation, while Kelley went through Oak Ridge Associated Universities.
The last step is for the applications to be reviewed by the Lindau Council, which makes the final selections.
“I learned a little bit about almost everything,” Kelley said. “This is very important in research, since researchers have to be creative in looking for problems to solve and solutions to those problems.”
Kelley said the Laureates reminded the students that research isn’t about winning prizes, but about patience, persistence and passion.
“The famous scientists became famous for work they began when they were around our age, still unknown and conducting investigations with no idea how they would turn out but driven by curiosity,” Kelley said.