Lindau Laureate

Mar 11th, 2010 | By | Category: Campus News, Issue, March 11, 2010

Dreiling selected to attend annual meetings that feature Nobel winners

In June, Joan Dreiling will make her first international trip.

Her destination is Lindau, Germany, where Dreiling will rub elbows with a few dozen Nobel laureates.

Not a bad capstone for the end of her second year as a graduate student.

The Lindau Laureate meetings are highly competitive annual gatherings of students in the sciences – chemistry, physiology/medicine and physics – brought together to attend lectures by past Nobel laureates. Afternoons and evenings are loosely structured to allow for socializing and mentoring.

Dreiling, a native of Ellis, Kan., had to clear several hoops to secure her invitation. She applied at the university level, and her application was selected and forwarded to the National Science Foundation by Chancellor Harvey Perlman. The NSF chose a handful of applicants and sent their paperwork on to the conference committee in Germany.

Joan Dreiling
Joan Dreiling, graduate student in physics, works in Tim Gay’s lab with the polarized electron scattering apparatus. She has been selected to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany this summer. Photo by Craig Chandler / University Communications.

From an international applicant pool of 20,000, Dreiling will convene in Lindau with about 500 peers, 77 from the United States. She will be the first UNL student in recent history to attend the meeting. Dreiling’s adviser, physics professor Tim Gay, wants to ensure she maximizes her experience.

“Dr. Gay gave me a list of the lectures that I need to make sure and attend,” Dreiling said. “I need to do a lot of reading before I go to find out what the different Nobel prizes were won for.”

Dreiling, 24, received her undergraduate degree from Ft. Hays State University. Although she is still finishing her graduate coursework, she spends as much time as possible in her lab at UNL.

“I look at the scattering of spin-polarized electrons from chiral targets,” she said. “A chiral target is one that has a preferential direction; we call it handedness. There are right-handed molecules and left-handed molecules. A spin-polarized electron is one that is spinning, like a little ball. We are trying to see if a spin-polarized electron spins off a chiral target of one handedness differently than one of the other handedness.”

Dreiling said a lot of biological molecules have a specific handedness.

“It’s a mystery why all sugars, for example, have a certain handedness, and not the other,” said Dreiling. “I am hoping to find an asymmetry in interactions; when we scatter the left spin polarized electron off of the right chiral target, we get a different current than we do with the left chiral target. That shows that there is an asymmetric interaction, and that can show that we have preferential handedness in a biological molecule.”

As an undergraduate, Dreiling took classes with several professors who had attended UNL. When she came to the UNL campus for a visit, the department just felt like the right fit. She’s still three to four years away from receiving her doctorate, but she’s already fairly confident that she would like to teach at a small college.

“I enjoyed the small university environment as an undergrad, but we’ll see,” she said. “I never thought that I would be here, so who knows what will happen in a few years.”

— By Sara Gilliam, University Communications

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