Opening Doors for Young Scientists
By David E. Daniel, Ph.D.
UT Dallas faculty members are passionate about research, discovery and innovation. Their work in labs and in the field is not only vital to the pursuit of new knowledge, it is equally critical to the learning experience provided to students. This commitment to taking the time to help students get their hands dirty results in graduates who are capable of recognizing and seizing opportunity—to launch a new company, to make a scientific breakthrough, to change the world for the better.
Consider Carter Haines BS’11. Carter came to UT Dallas the summer before his junior year at Plano East High School to participate in a program called NanoExplorers. Through NanoExplorers, qualified high school students gain early experience in conducting hands-on research related to nanotechnology, which examines how things work at the scale of atoms and molecules. The program was founded by Dr. Ray Baughman, director of the Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute and holder of the Robert A. Welch Distinguished Chair in Chemistry. Dr. Baughman’s work in the world of the very small has a potentially huge impact in widespread applications from energy harvesting and storage to artificial muscles and super-strong fibers.
Dr. Baughman is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and one of our most distinguished and accomplished faculty members, but he hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be young and unsure of how to get started in science. As a teenager, he rode his bike to the nearest university and without any introduction, knocked on the door of a professor’s lab. His initiative was rewarded with the opportunity to conduct laboratory research under the guidance of a university faculty member—an experience that inspired him to pursue his dreams. NanoExplorers is his way of opening a door to other potential young scientists.
Carter spent three high school summers as a NanoExplorer in Dr. Baughman’s lab. Then, as an undergraduate physics and neuroscience major at UT Dallas, he continued to work there, focusing on artificial muscles made from carbon nanotubes. When Carter began considering graduate schools, the choice was clear.
“What UT Dallas offers is unique—a lot of creativity and freedom,” says Carter, a current PhD student in materials science and engineering who has published six papers in high-impact journals and has three U.S. patent filings. He’s also managed to work in some important service, spending this past summer mentoring a new crop of high school students in NanoExplorers.
When we describe the impact UT Dallas is making, what we are really talking about is the work of people like Carter Haines and Ray Baughman. They set out not only to discover the unknown and turn it to humankind’s advantage, but also to encourage others to join them in that quest. Carter, Ray, and the people they teach and launch into the process of discovery, are the reason research universities like UT Dallas matter. Though making the next big discovery is a major motivation, opening doors for our students is always our greatest mission and greatest point of pride.
David E. Daniel, Ph.D., is president of UT Dallas. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and past president of TAMEST.