Teachers Who Inspired a Lecturer and a Student to Become Physicists

Teachers Who Inspired a Lecturer and a Student to Become Physicists

Sukurta: 12 May 2022

FF Straipsniams 1920x1280 2Everything would have turned out differently, if it wasn’t for the teachers who helped their students understand the beauty and complexity of physics. It was his teachers who inspired Dr Paulius Baronas, a researcher at the Institute of Photonics and Nanotechnologies in the Faculty of Physics, Vilnius University (VU), and student Eglė Tankelevičiūtė, to choose a career in physics.

“I’ve always been inclined to experiment, but the fact that I chose to specialise in this subject is probably due to my physics teacher,” Dr P. Baronas said.

The researcher recalled that at school, he initially found the challenges of physics to be insurmountable. He had great difficulty in seeing how events could be predicted and described with just a few formulas.

“My teacher needed a lot of patience, but suddenly came the enlightenment, and ever since then, physics has been an integral part of my life,” the VU researcher said.

After realising the importance of the teacher-student relationship, Dr P. Baronas now strives to establish the best possible relationships with his students and to help them as much as he can.

“I believe that students should be treated as your equals. Every task should be adapted to an individual student’s abilities – but most importantly, students must be allowed to make mistakes. Science is changing rapidly these days, so there are questions about whether what we’re doing today will be relevant ten years from now. Therefore, it’s important not to lose your own sense of curiosity and to be able to learn from your students. It’s also important to involve students in social activities, because it’s in informal settings that the best ideas are generated,” he explained.

The VU physics student E. Tankelevičiūtė has been working in the laboratory since her first year at the university, and revealed that she already knew what path she wanted to follow in school, and now intends to continue her studies abroad.

“I became very interested in physics in high school, partly because we had a unique teacher. I found attending his lessons a lot more exciting than my days off. I also found it interesting to understand everyday natural phenomena by describing them in a mathematical language. Studying physics at Vilnius University became a very logical decision, after I learned about the quality of studies and the list of subjects taught here,” E. Tankelevičiūtė recalled.

According to the student, she has enjoyed her studies from the very first lectures: “After a while, I realised that I had quite a bit of free time and decided to come to the laboratory, where I could study the laws of physics as well as contributing to the latest research.”

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P. Baronas is a former VU PhD student in the Physics Department, who defended his dissertation “Exciton Dynamics in Bifluorene Crystals for Laser Applications” and is now working in the field of molecular engineering, particularly relating to its application in electronics, such as solar cells and OLED devices. The scientist is currently conducting research to show completely new effects, which were never before seen in these molecules.

“I believe that students should be treated as your equals. Every task should be adapted to an individual student’s abilities – but most importantly, students must be allowed to make mistakes. Science is changing rapidly these days, so there are questions about whether what we’re doing today will be relevant ten years from now. Therefore, it’s important not to lose your own sense of curiosity and to be able to learn from your students. It’s also important to involve students in social activities, because it’s in informal settings that the best ideas are generated,” Dr P. Baronas explained.

“Molecular engineering is a new branch of science, as most of the tools for modelling, developing and monitoring new systems have only been achieved in recent decades. One could say that OLED devices were the first breakthrough in the field of molecular electronics, as they provided organic molecules with functions that are rarely found in nature, i.e. the ability to emit light and conduct electricity. During my doctoral studies, I conducted research on whether organic molecules could also be used to make a semiconductor laser. Unfortunately, this idea is difficult to implement in practice, so no group of scientists has yet been able to achieve it,” said the researcher.

“With science, sometimes you may feel like you’ve come to a dead-end; however, it’s important to remember that all the basic knowledge can be applied in other areas,” P. Baronas added. His plan for the future is to continue working with molecules; specifically, integrating many functions so that they could act as molecular machines in our body in the treatment of disease.

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E. Tankelevičiūtė met the lecturer in her second semester, when she joined the Organic Optoelectronics Research Group and was assigned a research topic from the field that Dr P. Baronas was analysing for his doctoral dissertation. That is how their scientific collaboration began.

According to E. Tankelevičiūtė, to learn from a mentor, you have to do more than just listen to what he’s saying. You need to take part in the discussion, and go into detail so that you can explain what you have learned. One should not be afraid to ask questions; otherwise, the opportunity to learn may be lost.

“Molecular engineering is a new branch of science, as most of the tools for modelling, developing and monitoring new systems have only been achieved in recent decades,” said the researcher.

At the 2018 Nobel Prize ceremony, when Donna Strickland was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics along with Arthur Ashkin and Gérard Mourou, she said: “When I was in grad school working on the project for which Gérard and I are being honoured, Cyndi Lauper had a big hit called “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”. They had to wait until their working day was done. But for me, I want to have fun while I’m working. Not everyone thinks physics is fun, but I do.”

“If I didn’t think physics was fun, I wouldn’t be here. Of course, it is important to separate work from leisure, and to have hobbies, but suffering for 8 hours a day in a job you hate is never worth it. Life’s too short for that,” the student said.

“After a couple of years of working with Eglė, we moved from simple laboratory work to complex scientific tasks, where the experimental results are linked to theoretical modelling. Currently, Eglė performs the modelling tasks independently. She is one of the few people in our institute who knows how to do this, so she helps her colleagues. Furthermore, Eglė has contributed to writing scientific articles and participated in the conferences to present our results, so I think she has already grown from a student into a fully-fledged researcher,” said Dr P. Baronas, supervisor of the student’s Bachelor’s thesis.

In recognition of the importance of developing a teacher-student relationship and having the courage to ask questions, VU is presenting an art project and a virtual exhibition, in collaboration with the documentary and portrait photographer Tadas Kazakevičius. The exhibition features a series of portraits of Dr P. Baronas and E. Tankelevičiūtė, revealing the sincere relationship between a teacher and his student and the importance of communication.