By Amanda Campanaro
When materials science and engineering Post-Doctoral Fellow Lydie Louis attended the UMich NextProf Workshop and presented an overview of her work with Dr. Serge Nakhmanson’s group in September, she saw exactly how she can make a difference in the community.
The NextProf Workshop, sponsored by the University of Michigan College of Engineering, is designed to prepare researchers for a future in academia, according to their website. Among the works Dr. Louis presented are her research predicting crystallization propensity using machine learning approaches, quantum mechanical pKa prediction of drug-like molecules, and atomistic modeling of ferroelectric oxides and polymers using Density Functional Theory (DFT).
“NextProf was a great experience which allowed me to see where I could make a difference using and furthering the many interesting projects that I am conducting,” Dr. Louis said.
After earning her Ph.D. in Microelectronic and Photonics from the University of Arkansas and Ecole Centrale, Paris in 2013, Dr. Louis joined MSE as a post-doctoral associate in Dr. Nakhmanson’s lab. One of her project involves using a decade worth of crystallization experiments from Pfizer as a mineable database, Dr. Louis has developed machine-learning algorithms to predict the success or failure of crystallization for compounds within the database. “I used descriptive data mining in order to answer pertinent questions related to experimental protocols within the same database,” she explained.
Dr. Louis is also exploring density functional theory (DFT) methods in combination with polarizable continuum calculations in the prediction of the pKa values of drug-like molecules. “Within the framework of this project I have developed an algorithm that identifies functional groups to assist in the selection of references used in the prediction of the pKa value.” she said.
In addition, using tools such as VASP, Quantum Espresso, Dr. Louis conducted calculations to determine the properties of Ruddlesden-Popper layered oxides structures under various epitaxial strains. Furthermore, she also studied molecular crystals and used DFT combined with maximally-localized Wannier functions to determine the polarization and the dipolar arrangement in co-crystals.
Her diverse research affects a variety of areas. “My work that involves data mining can be placed under biomedical, chemistry and computer science. The algorithms that I helped develop may be integrated directly to the pharmaceutical industry in determining fundamental properties such as the pKa value,” Dr. Louis said.
This year’s NextProf workshop was focused on driving diversity in Engineering, and encouraged women and traditionally under-represented minorities to present their research.
“This experience has shown me how I could make a difference due to my diverse background,” Dr. Louis said.
The workshop emphasized the importance of diversity in addition to offering a concrete view of the procedure to obtain a tenure track position. NextProf highlighted the appeals of an academic position, as well as the part that Dr. Louis can play in such a setting.
Dr. Louis received feedback on her own work and networked with colleagues to find potential collaborators for future projects. “I think that the interaction with my peers was an excellent setting for me to network and expand on my research projects.” Dr. Louis said. “Since faculty members also came to the presentation, it was an opportunity to showcase my work.”
The workshop served the additional purpose of promoting diversity in Engineering. During the workshops, the abysmal number of underrepresented groups within STEM was re-iterated to the attendees. “It is important that everyone be offered the same opportunities to an education, especially those who have been marginalized,” Dr. Louis said. “I was fortunate to have had the experience of working with different research groups both in America and in Europe, and having faculty members and peers of different origins and cultures gave me a far richer education, experience and approach to research.”
In addition to her research, Dr. Louis is a mentor to students in Dr. Nakhmanson’s group, participating in the training and project development of graduate students. She is also working on developing a non-profit organization that aims at educating young women in STEM.
“Throughout my education I have been a tutor, mentor, teacher, researcher and leader. Those are roles that I enjoy and try to perform with integrity and passion. I hope to someday instill these qualities in the next generation of scientists, but more importantly provide a nurturing, diverse and supportive environment for those scientists to reach their full potential.”