For this installment of Senior Member Insights, we talk with Christos Argyropoulos. Christos is an assistant professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at University of Nebraska–Lincoln, USA, and an associate editor of Optics Express. His work is dedicated to the fundamental understanding of how light and matter interact in new artificially engineered nanophotonic materials.
What first interested you in pursuing science?
The fascinating research areas of astrophysics and particle physics represented in popular-science books instantly captivated me when I was a high school student. During college, my curiosity on how different physical phenomena occur and how we can explain them with mathematics, the language of the universe, further increased. The field of artificially engineered electromagnetic materials inspired me the most during my early research efforts focused on the modeling and design of the “cloak of invisibility” and led me to pursue a research career in the intriguing field of metamaterials.
What is one question you had as a student/early professional that never seemed to be answered? Have you found the answer?
The main question that still continues to tantalize research minds in my field is how to enhance the interaction of light with matter at the nanoscale, in regions a billionth of a meter small.
Interestingly, it seems that my field of study, optical metamaterials, is one of the most promising candidates to solve the problem of weak light-matter interactions at the nanoscale. Its solution will have fundamental implications to several new fields in optics, such as quantum and nonlinear optics, both of them still in their infancy. Hence, the process of solving this problem is currently ongoing but light seems to exist at the end of the tunnel …
What professional resources do you rely on to stay active and engaged with your field?
I mainly read journal and conference publications. I also try to attend conferences and other relevant online webinars in my field. I particularly enjoy discussing science with my colleagues during conferences and other relevant meetings or events.
What tips do you have for effective collaboration in your field?
Collaboration is extremely important in my field since the majority of the research problems currently under investigation have started to become increasingly interdisciplinary, requiring scientific expertise from different research areas. The key to successful collaboration is finding the correct team members that have the appropriate complementary expertise to solve the problem. For example, good theoreticians combined with very proactive experimentalists is an excellent team choice to successfully work in a complicated project. The work ethics of each team member, combined of course with their outstanding research credentials, is also of particular importance in order to meet the project’s deadlines and deliverables.
What have you learned by being a mentor to others, and what have you learned from mentors who helped shepherd your career?
Mentoring other fellow researchers is one of the greatest joys of my current job responsibilities. The young students always surprise me, usually in a positive way … There is no bigger satisfaction to a teacher than knowing that his/her students excel in their careers. I think the key process towards achieving this goal is to provide stimulating and challenging problems to the students. In addition, the most important issue for them is to be really motivated to solve these problems and not feel bored, which leads to a low attention span.
I was fortunate enough to be mentored by extremely successful researchers, who are top scientists in their research fields. What I learned is that you should never be afraid to fail. Failure and rejection is always part of everybody’s research career, independently of how successful she or he is. In the end, they turn out to be beneficial to our career and substantially improve our research in most cases. In a few words, failures make us stronger. I always advise young researchers to be patient and persistent in their research endeavors and, most importantly, to be excited with their work and never give up.
What are habits each day that help you to be successful?
Organizing the tasks of each day in your calendar and mind is a very important and effective way to prioritize your work assignments and can definitely lead to success. However, time dedicated to spontaneous brainstorming and creative thinking is also required, especially in academia. It can be extremely beneficial to broaden your research horizons. As a brilliant scientist once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”
What advice do you have for young scientists who are about to interview for their first job?
Be confident and most importantly be yourself. There is a reason why you are invited for an interview and you need to believe that you are the best candidate for the job. You have to believe in yourself and your opinions or no one will believe in you. It is also important to be open to new ideas and suggestions but always judge them with a critical mind.
At this point in your career, what are you most looking forward to next?
I have already established a lab unique to University of Nebraska–Lincoln, focusing on metamaterials and nanophotonics. All my colleagues are very supportive of my work and scientific collaborations are highly encouraged in my working environment. My aim is to further increase the high-impact research trajectory of my university in nanophotonics and other relevant research areas. In addition, the molding of young student minds, either in my class or lab, is another high priority during this phase of my career.
If you weren’t in the sciences, what would be your dream career?
That’s a tough question because I am passionate about science and it is difficult to think about doing something else. I would definitely like to be involved in music, either as singer or guitarist or drummer. In particular, I love rock-and-roll music and to contribute to this great music genre would be an amazing alternative career. Unfortunately, I do not have either the voice or instrument-playing charisma …