LSU Father-Daughter and Father-Son Science Teams that are Out of this World

Happy Father’s Day!

To celebrate Father’s Day, we are highlighting father-daughter and father-son dynamic science duos in the LSU College of Science! Several of our students have their fathers (and mothers) to thank for their passion for science.

 

For the Love of Physics

 Rebecca in her dad's office at LSU.

Rebecca in her dad's office at LSU.

Rebecca DiTusa, an undergraduate student at LSU, was inspired to pursue physics in college by her father Dr. John DiTusa, who is professor and department chair of the LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy.

“For the most part, I have tried to steer clear of my children's professional work while they are here at LSU, to give them room to find out for themselves what they are passionate about,” DiTusa said. His son, Mark DiTusa, graduated from LSU last year with degrees in chemistry and physics, but also pursued science communication projects including a science podcast series now called Experimental and hosted by Communication across the Curriculum. In his own research, DiTusa investigates the interaction of charge carriers and magnetic degrees of freedom in solids (semiconductors and metals). His research team strives to create conditions where new discovery can lead to new ideas and new materials for various applications including magnetic storage technologies and superconductors for no-loss power transfer.

LSU College of Science: How does your father inspire you in your scientific endeavors?

Rebecca: Watching my father work every day on the science he loves really encouraged me to find what I am passionate about, which just happened to also be physics. Growing up, when I would ask a question my father would focus all his attention on answering it. Throughout my childhood, in-depth explanations as to how different processes worked were not an uncommon part of my day. From the very beginning, I was introduced to how and why things work the way they do. I believe his explanations have had an impact on my decision to choose physics as a major at LSU.

 Rebecca working in a lab at LSU.

Rebecca working in a lab at LSU.

LSU College of Science: How did you get interested in science? What are your career aspirations?

Rebecca: My father tells me to find what I love to do, no matter what it is. I came to LSU as an undecided science major and took multiple science classes to figure out what I love best. I tentatively declared physics as my major so that I could take the physics major-only classes.

Halfway through my freshman year, I thought I was ready to put physics to the side and searched for a new career path. I looked into different majors including interior design and marine biology. But after a two-week period of switching my major on a daily basis, I found my way back to physics. Physics really has everything I love, and I realized that I was in the right place.

Along with physics, I have found interest in nuclear science and have decided to minor in it. With the knowledge that I will gain in my undergraduate career, I hope to go to graduate school for medical physics. By combining nuclear science and physics I will be able to apply my knowledge in either a research setting or a medical one. I haven't set a definite career plan for myself, but I would like to learn more about radiology.

 Rebecca working in a lab at LSU.

Rebecca working in a lab at LSU.

LSU College of Science: Can you tell us about any experiences you have "teaming up" with your father for science, and what those have been like? 

Rebecca: The closest I have been to working on the same project as my father was during an REU (research experience for undergraduates) program at LSU the summer before my freshman year in college. My project was in solid state physics, which is what my father specializes in. My project was to synthesize single crystals that have been thought to be topological insulators.

I remember going to my father’s office after the first day of the REU. I felt overwhelmed by all the expectations and tasks. He eased my worries after answering a long string of questions about topological insulators and what was really to be expected of me. These office trips turned into lunches together and have continued through my freshman and sophomore years. Eating lunch together and talking about my day gives me the emotional bump that I sometimes rely on. If I am really in need of talking, he is always there to listen and give advice no matter how much work he has on his mind. My father is always there to tell me I can do something whenever I am low on confidence, and I really appreciate it. Another thing he is great at is putting things into perspective. He has always expected a lot out of me, but knows my limits and capabilities. I thank him for pushing me to do things I do not always think I am capable.

 Rebecca and Dr. DiTusa at an LSU Football game.

Rebecca and Dr. DiTusa at an LSU Football game.

Thanks Pops, I love you.

 

Making Connections for Research

Manon shares a love for science with her parents Dr. Sophie Warny and Dr. Phil Bart, both faculty members in College of Science. But a serendipitous conversation about her father's research over coffee one morning led Manon, an undergraduate physics and chemical engineering major, to collaborate on a special research project with him this year!

 Ice Bridge Antarctic Sea Ice, seen from a plane. Credit: NASA HQ, Flickr.com

Ice Bridge Antarctic Sea Ice, seen from a plane. Credit: NASA HQ, Flickr.com

“My students and I are compiling geological and geophysical observations from the Ross Sea continental shelf to understand the ongoing retreat of the grounded and floating terminus of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the largest marine-based ice sheet on Earth,” Phil Bart said. Bart is an associate professor in the Department of Geology & Geophysics. “We acquired tons of new data from the Whales Deep Basin in the austral summer of 2015 as part of a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The data we are analyzing were acquired aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer RVIB, which is a research ice breaker leased to the NSF from the Edison Chouset Offshore in Galliano, Louisiana.”

In the fall of 2017, Phil submitted a scientific article on the subject of this research to Nature Scientific Reports. But one of the peer-reviewers who reviewed the paper prior to possible publication objected to Phil’s strategy of estimating the rate of movement of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet by looking at the flow or flux of sediments under the ice sheet.

“The same week that I got the reviews, Manon and I meet for coffee on campus and she told me about a challenging homework problem in one of her classes,” Phil said. “The homework assignment required using MATLAB to estimate the annual flux of water through a canal using time-varying measurements of water column height, width and velocity. As we talked about the assignment, I told Manon about the revision to the Scientific Reports paper that I needed to complete before it could be accepted for publication. Over the next couple of weeks, Manon ran literally thousands of MATLAB simulations of ice-sheet sediment flux using different random combinations of sediment layer thickness, width and velocity. Those simulation results greatly informed our revision of our Scientific Reports manuscript, so much so that we added Manon as a co-author. Our revised study showed that in the Whales Deep Basin, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet extent was relatively stationary for more than three millennia and then a 125-mile retreat of the ice sheet occurred in a geologic instant.”

LSU College of Science: How does your father inspire you in your scientific endeavors?

Manon: I remember my Dad always telling me that science is based in facts, and that that is what makes it such a powerful tool. Now, as both a physics and chemical engineering major, I’m amazed how we humans have manipulated nature's laws and forces and used science to our advantage.

My Dad never stops talking about geology! He is so passionate about it, and that is really an admirable trait. He has taken me on many road trips and we've stopped so many times to look at rock formations… trust me, you do not want to go on road trips with geologists!

My dad has brought me to the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco twice, and that was amazing! I got to see some talks on Climate Change that were incredible, and just seeing everyone so excited to share their research was awesome. 

 Manon and her father at AGU, a science conference.

Manon and her father at AGU, a science conference.

LSU College of Science: How did you get interested in science? What are your career aspirations?

 Manon and Phil Bart.

Manon and Phil Bart.

Manon: I really like the fundamentals of science. I absolutely loved studying algebra, calculus, and of course, science, so I went into physics. I also loved applying physics, so I decided my second year at LSU to add on a degree in engineering, as this could lead me down different paths in the future.

In terms of my career, I really love traveling, and would love to be in France or Belgium, where my mom is from. [Manon’s mother, Sophie Warney, is an associate professor and AASP Professor in the Center for Excellence in Palynology in LSU’s Department of Geology & Geophysics]. Whether or not I decide to be a professor or something else I am not sure. I am also becoming a certified yoga teacher, so we will see!

LSU College of Science: Can you tell us about any experiences you have "teaming up" with your father for science, and what those have been like?

Manon: I teamed up with my Dad because of a homework assignment I was working on that had applications in geology. It was really fun to see how everything I was learning could be translated to geology.

We ended up submitting a paper to a scientific journal, and it was cool to see that process! My Dad and I both love double shots of espresso, so we would always go to Highland Coffee and work on the paper and drink coffee, which was so much fun. He really is so passionate about geology, which in turn motivated me to input something valuable into the paper. I am so lucky to have such a motivating and inspiring Dad!

 

A Geologist and an Astronomer Embark on a Road Trip...

Rory shares an unbridled passion for scientific discovery and exploration of the unknown with his father. Sam Bentley is Professor and Billy & Ann Harrison Chair of Sedimentary Geology in LSU’s Department of Geology & Geophysics, and Associate Dean of Research & Administration in the College of Science. While Bentley explores the depths of the sea this summer to investigate submarine landslide processes in the Gulf of Mexico, Rory looks to the stars.

“Rory and I both share interests in the science of the sky, and the science of the Earth,” Bentley said. “He is a pro with the sky, and I am a pro with the Earth. My own interests are broadly in the geology of sediments and sedimentary rocks. My research is mostly on sediments that are not yet lithified, not yet rocks. However, I teach students about the geology of sedimentary rocks, so I need to know about both rocks and unlithified sediments. That’s one area where my work and Rory’s scientific interests overlap.”

 A selfie of Sam and his father Dr. Sam Bentley, from a peak on the eastern edge of Glacier NP last summer.

A selfie of Sam and his father Dr. Sam Bentley, from a peak on the eastern edge of Glacier NP last summer.

LSU College of Science: How does your father inspire you in your scientific endeavors?

Rory: My dad has been a great guide throughout my life in science. Not only has he been a mentor figure, but he has helped me look into potential academic endeavors and opportunities. His enthusiasm for his work has also rubbed off on me, spawning my casual but still substantial interest in geology and geography. 

LSU College of Science: How did you get interested in science? What are your career aspirations?

Rory: I have the amusing situation of being able to trace my passion for astronomy and other sciences to one specific object: A solar system placemat that my aunt got me for my second birthday (which is currently in a drawer my house's rec room). I loved it so much that I quickly got another one, and that lead to me getting astronomy and science toys, books, etc. That passion has propelled me to where I am today, and hasn't shown any signs of slowing. Currently I am looking to pursue a full-time career in astronomy and astrophysics, in particular the structure of the Milky Way and other galaxies.

LSU College of Science: Can you tell us about any experiences you have "teaming up" with your father for science, and what those have been like?

Rory: While Dad and I have never published a paper together, I have helped him in the field numerous times throughout my life. I have done odd jobs for him in the field, getting hands dirty working on coring and operating sedimentology lab equipment.

Our semi-annual cross-country road trips have been beneficial to both of our scientific interests, allowing us to witness first-hand the subjects of our respective fields, for me the stars in the sky above and him the ground underfoot. (Also, barbeque. We both love barbeque). Our trips, which are often scientifically justified, have taken us across tens of thousands of miles of the United States, from the amber spires of southern Utah to the breezy, blue and golden expanse of the Dakota plains. There are very few things I enjoy more than our times together.

Sam Bentley: Rory and I have been going on long road trips since he was little to places like the Grand Canyon, Big Bend and Glacier National Park, places covered with ancient sedimentary rocks, sometimes with his brother Jack and other family members, and sometimes just myself and Rory. Over the years, he has developed a great love for the wide-open spaces of the West. Along the way, listening to my ceaseless chatting about rocks, mountains and outcrops, he has become a very good field geologist, with an interest in both what the landscape looks like, and what it is made of (mostly rock, out West, in many cases). Several years ago, starting when Rory was still in high school, he got to put some of this to work for research in the Planetary Geology lab at LSU, run by Suniti Karunatillake in Geology and Geophysics.

The western skies are also great for star gazing. I have a dilettante’s interest in and knowledge of the sky, which Rory surpassed before he was three years old. His first look through a good telescope was of Jupiter, in his grandmother’s lap (she loves the skies too). He got his first high-quality telescope when he was about 10 years old. Since then, we have taken telescopes and other optics on most all of our trips together, and always planned campsites, schedules, etc. around where and when telescope observations would be best. He knows much about astronomy and what we can see in the skies, and has also taught me much.

 Rory looks through a telescope at BREC Parks.

Rory looks through a telescope at BREC Parks.

Now, on our long trips, he and I work together. He helps me with driving long dirt roads to remote locations, collecting samples and studying outcrops, I work with him to find great campsites for stargazing, and support his astronomical observations.  Big Bend National Park, Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument, Glacier National Park, Pathfinder Dam on the Platte River, Fort Peck Dam on the upper Missouri, Dinosaur National Monument, Great Sand Dunes, Guadeloupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, the list goes on and on.  It is a great partnership.


Happy Father’s Day! And special thanks to all the dads out there who inspire a passion for science and a hunger for discovery and exploration in their children.