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Physics grad student meets with Nobel Prize winners

Matthew Smith, second from right, mingles with other young researchers at the Nobel Laureate Meetings in Lindau, Germany.

It’s not every day that a graduate student studying physics gets to speak with men and women who have won Nobel Prizes, but for one week this summer, Matthew Smith got to do just that.

In June, Smith became the first Lehigh student to attend the Nobel Laureate Meetings in Lindau, Germany. Smith, a Ph.D. student in physics, joined 23 Nobel Laureates and more than 500 young researchers from around the world. The goal of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings is to support the transfer of knowledge between generations of researchers. 

“This meeting has helped to expand my view on the ways I can contribute to research, and provide new opportunities for the next step in my professional development,” says Smith, who was nominated to attend by Lehigh University and ultimately selected and sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the agency that funds Smith’s research.

A theme is selected for each annual meeting, and the Nobel Prize winners and researchers are chosen based on their area of research. This year’s topic was physiology and medicine.

'Talent, creativity and persistence'

Smith studies biophysics, specifically the cell mechanics of the protein actin. Working with Dimitrios Vavylonis, assistant professor of physics, Smith works with collaborators at Tohoku University in Japan and Yale University.

Smith and his collaborators develop image analysis tools to quantify protein dynamics based on fluorescent markers and look at how cells maintain their shape and respond to external stimuli. Their findings could potentially help with the development of pharmaceuticals.

“Attending lectures and meeting with Nobel Prize winners was a unique opportunity for Matt to appreciate the different combination of talent, creativity and persistence that has led to big advances in science,” Vavylonis says.

Smith, who studied physics and mechanical engineering as an undergraduate student, found the meeting especially interesting because he doesn’t get a lot of exposure to issues of physiology or medicine in his regular work.

“My favorite part of the meeting was the ‘parallel discussions,’ where a Nobel Laureate would discuss his or her research with a small group of young researchers,” Smith says. “These discussions were very interactive. They showed some of the importance of the Nobel Prize-winning research because many of the attendees worked on similar research and were asking very progressive questions.”

Smith also had the opportunity to meet and learn from other young researchers from the United States who were sponsored by organizations such as the Mars Foundation, Oak Ridge Associated Universities and the Department of Energy.

“The goal of the meeting is to bring together young researchers to make connections and foster new career opportunities,” he says. “The work that I do is very cross-disciplinary with active collaborations.”

Story by Emily Groff

Posted on Wednesday, October 05, 2011

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