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Chemist selects Southeastern for post-doctoral work

Contact: Rene Abadie


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Thomas Sommerfeld, Iwona Dabkowska, Max McCray, Becky Weber

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VISITING CHEMIST -- Iwona Dabkowska, a visiting scientist from Poland at Southeastern Louisiana University, makes a point about computational chemistry to students Max McCray of Watson and Becky Weber of Hammond in the university's Molecular Simulation Laboratory. Observing is Thomas Sommerfeld, director of the lab. Dabkowska spent more than a month at Southeastern on a prestigious Marie Curie fellowship.

HAMMOND – With a prestigious Marie Curie fellowship in hand, Polish chemist Iwona Dabkowska could go nearly anywhere in the world for post-doctoral studies and research.

     So, what made her leave her research station in Berlin and choose Southeastern Louisiana University?

     “That man,” says Dabkowska, pointing across the lab to Thomas Sommerfeld, assistant professor of theoretical and computational chemistry at Southeastern. Dabkowska’s colleagues in Berlin knew that her research interests in molecular chemistry were closely aligned with Sommerfeld’s and strongly suggested she consider collaborating with him.

     In Southeastern’s Molecular Simulations Laboratory, Sommerfeld and his student researchers are working to working to develop a theory that explains why atoms that have extra electrons tend to break their chemical bonds.

     “Electrons are like the glue that holds atoms together when they form molecules,” he explains. “It’s not your usual glue though, because only the exact amount will bind the atoms; too few or too many, and the atoms won’t stick. Understanding this mechanism has very practical applications, especially in DNA research.”

     Sommerfeld came to Southeastern two years ago from the University of Pittsburgh where he was a research assistant professor. “Thomas's international reputation is due to the fact that he is doing research atthe forefront of his field,” said Gerard Blanchard, head of the Department of Chemistry and Physics. “The real beneficiaries of this are our students. They not only learn science in the classroom, but by participating in guided research they contribute to the making of new science.”

     Dabkowska spent a month in March and April at Southeastern working alongside Sommerfeld and his students. The Marie Curie Fellowship allows individual researchers to participate in a research team in another country for several weeks. The program is funded by the European Commission, the executive body of the 27-nation European Union.

     After earning her doctorate at the University of Gdanzk, Dabkowska worked at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richmond, Wash., one of 10 national laboratories affiliated with the U.S. Department of Energy. She later joined Freie Universitaet in Berlin, where she is doing her current research.

     “The work we are doing involves extremely small molecules,” she said. “It is mostly computational work that we are able to do on a computer. So we should be able to collaborate very easily on our future research projects.”

     While staying in Hammond – a community she enjoyed but which she admits is considerably different from either Berlin or the west coast, Dabkowska stayed at the “Inn at Southeastern.” The Inn is Southeastern’s former president’s residence which now serves as a temporary home for visiting faculty and other guests.

     “It was a wonderful opportunity and a real honor to be able to interact with a scientist like Dr. Dabkowska,” said Rebecca Weber of Hammond, a junior majoring in chemistry. “Working in this lab has given me a great appreciation for scientists like Dr. Dabkowska and Dr. Sommerfeld; it’s an experience that I would not have gained by only interacting with them in the classroom.”

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