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Graduate students benefit as well. “He can come up to the lab and really put stuff together and make it happen—where I would flounder about for a bit,” says Rob Smith, a third-year Ph.D. student of Nelson’s. “He’s got world experience and that’s invaluable to me.”

For her part, Schadler views teaching as “a great part of the job,” but it’s a job she’s committed to—from Ph.D. students all the way down to K-12 outreach.

Graduate student Justin Bult appreciates Schadler’s intellectual insight as a mentor. But just as important, he says, “She’s definitely involved, which is excellent compared to other advisers. She lets students try to develop the ideas on their own. She lets you wander for a little while, because she knows that’s the only way you’re going to develop that idea yourself. But she doesn’t let you wander so long as to [get lost].”

Undergraduates interested in research are also are welcome in her lab. “I try not to say no, if a student asks,” says Schadler.

Schadler is the education and outreach coordinator for the Nanotechnology Center, which includes running a summer program for undergraduates and helping high school teachers develop nanotechnology curriculums. But perhaps her most well-known outreach mechanism (developed with a team of faculty and an industry partner) is the Molecularium, a multimedia planetarium show that explores atomic and molecular, rather than astronomical, phenomena.

Both Schadler and Nelson stress that their collaboration crosses disciplinary and departmental boundaries and credit the culture at Rensselaer for encouraging interdisciplinary research and keeping administrative barriers low.

Nelson adds that industry and government funding are there for them to continue their work. “It’s an area where it’s not difficult to get funding,” he says. “It’s also an area where there is a lot of patent activity. Certainly the industrial sponsors are interested in what there is in terms of intellectual property.”

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