Shubhra Gangopadhyay is the one of the few female faculty at MU’s Center for Micro/Nano Systems and Nanotechnology. She’s also the one in charge of developing the center. In the Electrical and Computer Engineering department, of which Gangopadhyay is the LaPierre Endowed Chair Professor, she is one of three women. “There is a shortage of female scientists and female professors, in general,” Gangopadhyay says. “And in engineering, it is really not good.”
He calls it “fire in the gut.” It’s the excitement, the burning drive to work through a problem and see the solution. It’s staying up at night, turning something over and over in your head and feeling exhilarated when you finally come up with an answer, says Chris Hardin, Professor and Chair of the Nutritional Sciences Department.
Great celestial bodies populate the solar system. For an untrained eye staring at the heavens, the starlight spectacles and endless seas of blackness are nothing short of a miracle. Researchers, however, have developed mathematical equations that may help us understand such mysteries of the universe. From Isaac Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation to Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, the scientific community has paved the way for a greater understanding of the great beyond.
Johnstone outlines some of the challenges in applying scientific methods to the study of spirituality.
When it came time for Gangopadhyay to earn her PhD, she decided she wanted to attend a prestigious school, India Institute of Technology in Kharagpur. “It was a major step for my family to let me go,” she says. Convincing her father was the hard part; he didn’t want his daughter living more than 1,000 kilometers away. But Gangopadhyay was stubborn and told him she wouldn’t accept a “no.” He finally agreed, so long as she agreed to stay with an uncle who lived in Kharagpur.
Metabolism was the perfect science for Hardin to study both because it has an immediate impact and because it can be tested. Hardin’s mother was a physician and his father was a philosopher, so studying metabolics seemed to make perfect sense.
It is fascinating to hear about how these graduate students were drawn to their chosen area of study. While in some cases, their graduate program was a logical next step, for other students there is the sense that serendipity played a bigger role. In all cases, however, the sense of “something just clicking” becomes evident. Once they chose an area in which to specialize, that is, other aspects of their research and study just seem to fall into place.
William Donald Thomas, for example, recalls his college days: “I was an art major and then an English major, but I couldn’t see myself doing that for the rest of my life.…I looked at what I liked most, and that was biology. I wasn’t always interested in exactly what I’m doing now. I sort of fell into it. I like the simplicity in the system we are using; that is probably what attracted me to it.”
Similarly, Erica Racen admits that she did not begin in the basic sciences. As an undergraduate student, however, she did research in the area of cardio-thoracic surgery. “I was excited about science and research, and after graduating, I decided to get my Ph.D.” While doing rotations in different labs, she states: “When I tried out Karen Bennett’s laboratory, I found that it was the right fit for me. I liked the research, and as I have slowly learned more about it, it has kind of become my own.”
Brian Bostick recounts that he enjoyed science and medicine in high school, saying, “I always thought I would be a doctor.” While taking classes to prepare for medical school, he was exposed to the research aspect of academia. “I got really interested in how the stuff in the textbooks got there. I wanted to become one of the people who discovers those things.” After doing a rotation in Dongsheng Duan’s laboratory, says Bostick, “I think that’s when it all clicked. It was really exciting. Duan is really energetic and believes in the work he is doing. He is always thinking back to the actual patients. I think that is what really got me interested in research, but also in combining research with the clinical side.”
“Growing up, I was fascinated by nature and plants,” tells Amy Replogle. Intending to pursue plant biology in college, an internship at The Ohio State University in plant pathology triggered greater interest. Afterward, Replogle came to MU for an internship with Melissa Mitchum, who later became her advisor.
“I’ve always liked plants,” says Severin Stevenson about his own path to graduate school. Not only are plants relatively easy to study and hold multiple opportunities for studying, but they are also a good starting model. “Biochemistry is biochemistry,” suggests Stevenson. “No matter what system you are working on, you can apply it to other systems as well.”
Chicone believes math is an artistic expression like music, painting, and theatre. Not everyone can identify with this art, he admits, but those who can are able to develop a strong appreciation for problem-solving.
Chicone describes how he became interested in studying mathematics. Beginning with positive experiences he had as a student, his love for the subject continued
Beyond his passion for mathematics, Chicone’s favorite pastime is building furniture. He finds it amusing that people try to find a connection between his interests, and insists that woodworking is a love completely outside of math.
Chicone discusses the fundamental importance of mathematics for the natural world, observing that mathematics serves an array of practical purposes. He gives the example of one of his students, who freezes tissue for a project in cryobiology. The researchers working on this project are using mathematical models to make predictions about the behavior of living cells.
As a researcher at MU, Chicone spends a large portion of his time working with students. As an instructor involved with both graduate and undergraduate students, Chicone says that he learns a great deal from those he teaches.
Chicone discusses his recent work on the velocity of particles moving near a black hole. Based on his research, particles moving faster than 70% of the speed of light that travel along the black hole’s axis decelerate, but objects moving perpendicular to that axis accelerate. These findings defy Newton’s Laws and obey Einstein’s Laws of General Relativity.
Chicone contributes to other fields of science outside of mathematics, cooperating, for example, with MU’s Medical School and School of Engineering to produce the kind of mathematical models that now play an integral role in designing predictions for scientific experiments.
Chandrasekhar thinks back to her youth in India, where she found herself inexplicably drawn to the study of science and physics.