2020 Ereztech BridgeForward™ Award Essay

Olja Simoska

Genealogies of research training are significant when considering scientific influences. Every  professor who trains a graduate student was once a student researching with another professor, creating a scientific linage. This academic history provides a vital perspective of the transmission  of ideas and their transmutation to one’s research. My scientific family tree begins with my  academic ‘father’ and outstanding Ph.D. mentor, Keith J. Stevenson. Stevenson completed his  graduate studies at University of Utah under the mentorship of Henry S. White, who obtained his  Ph.D. at University of Texas with Allen J. Bard. In addition to my interactions with my Ph.D.  mentor, I have had the opportunity to meet both my academic ‘grandfather’ and ‘great grandfather,’ who are professors at my post-doc and Ph.D. home institutions, respectively.  Recognized as the ‘father of modern electrochemistry,’ Bard has made immense  contributions in the field (e.g., electrochemiluminescence, development of scanning  electrochemical microscope, authoring the principal electrochemistry textbook). By applying  electrochemical methodologies to study chemical problems, Bard deepened the fundamental  understanding of electron-transfer reactions and fostered the development of electroanalytical  techniques/instrumentations. Through merging experimental and theoretical aspects of  fundamental electrochemistry, White has devoted his research to studying electrochemistry in  nanoscale domains, which is the driving science behind batteries, molecular electronics, and  chemical sensors. White’s major contributions are studies of electrochemically generated  nanobubbles and the creation of nanopore electrodes. My academic ‘father’ Stevenson has been  extremely innovative/unique in his approach blending fundamental electrochemistry with  materials science. His research mainly aims at elucidating chemistry at solid-liquid interfaces  critical to emerging energy storage and energy conversion technologies. Stevenson expands the  understanding of how materials behave, allowing him to apply existing materials to various  technologies and to design novel, improved materials. With Stevenson’s tremendous creativity in materials, my Ph.D. work focused on a distinctive electrode material combination to develop a  nanometer-size electrode array platform. The latter portion of my Ph.D., extending to a different  area, utilized this electrochemical platform for the real-time monitoring of cellular redox  metabolites, providing a substantial quantitative basis for understanding microbial infections and  virulence mechanisms in complex biological systems.  

Exploring my mentorship lineage and its history points to overlaps in research  fundamentals and electrochemistry concepts. However, the questions motivating the research  interests change through generations due to the interdisciplinary nature of electrochemistry. My academic forebears might have been decades away from practical applications as their research established the foundations of fundamental electrochemistry. From my perspective, thoughts of  real-world applications impacted the research directions of each generation. The current challenges in developing electrochemical technologies for practical uses (e.g., sensors, fuel cells, batteries)  still depend on these principal concepts, which infiltrate through the traditional chemistry  disciplines and will carry forward onto the next generations.  

This is not just academic history, but rather a story about leading electrochemists and  evidence of inspiring research. My preceding generations create a lineage of scientists who have  deepened our understanding of the physical world. Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen a little  further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” which applies here as these are generations of  valuable advisors. I know from firsthand experience that Stevenson undoubtedly is an outstanding mentor, and in my path forward, I will emulate him. During my Ph.D., he has done a stellar job  with long-distance mentorship. This cultural mentorship aspect is unprecedented, differentiating  Stevenson from my academic grandfathers. Stevenson builds not only research programs but also  the students who will keep carrying science forward – science that truly matters in the lives of  everyday individuals. By sharing the joy of what we do with younger generations of  electrochemists, we create a legacy that matters most.