Honors take chemical engineering prof. to Europe
Vol. 17, No. 5Oct. 2, 1997

Honors take chemical engineering prof. to Europe

The terrain in Switzerland and Southern Germany "is much more conductive to alpine skiing and mountaineering than Delaware's," reported Norman J. Wagner, chemical engineering, whose studies of complex fluids recently earned two major awards.

Wagner, who completed the first half of his sabbatical year at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), was among an elite group of young scientists to be invited to the third annual German-American Frontiers of Science symposium. In June of this year, he also received a Senior Scholar Fulbright Fellowship from the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board and the U.S. Information Agency. As a fellowship recipient, he will work at Germany's University of Konstanz during the current school year.

Asked to describe his European surroundings, Wagner said that his office in Konstanz "overlooks the beautiful lake of Constance and the Northern Alps with a view of three countries: Germany, Austria and Switzerland."

Wagner, who served as a National Science Foundation (NSF) post-doctoral research associate in Konstanz before joining the UD faculty, said that he and his wife, Sabine Banerjee-Wagner, have enjoyed the music and theatre of the region, as well as renewed connections with old friends and family.

Most of Wagner's time overseas has been devoted to teaching and research, however. The German-American Frontiers of Science symposium, launched in 1994 by the German-American Academic Council Foundation, was patterned after the annual U.S. Frontiers of Science event, organized by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Like its U.S. counterpart, the German symposium allows outstanding junior scientists to share the latest information on cutting-edge research in a variety of disciplines.

The third German-American Frontiers of Science symposium, which took place June 20-22 at the Kardinal Wendel Haus in Munich, Germany, helped stimulate interdisciplinary collaboration among some of the world's best and brightest scholars, organizers said.

The 1997 symposium was organized by the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science and the NAS in cooperation with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the German-American Academic Council Foundation.

One of 1,600 U.S. Fulbright winners who will travel abroad in 1997-98 to promote international understanding, Wagner was selected on the basis of his academic and professional qualifications, and his willingness to share experiences and ideas with diverse groups, according to the U.S. Information Agency.

At the University of Konstanz, Wagner's fellowship responsibilities will include co-teaching a new seminar class on colloid physics. Some of the course content will make its way into an upcoming textbook, he said.

He also is conducting joint research on the fundamental theory of Brownian motion, which involves the motion and structuring of atoms, proteins, polymers and colloids (substances such as starch or gelatin, with one phase dispersed in another)-especially the behavior of colloidal particles near surfaces. When he returns to UD next year, Wagner said, this work will be applied to technologically significant problems in such diverse fields as automotive coatings, adhesives and biosensors.

During the first half of his sabbatical in Zurich, Wagner coauthored a number of scientific manuscripts, and put his foreign-language skills to good use, by co-teaching material science courses in German. In his discussions with the students and local residents, Wagner said that he has been picking up a few words of the regional dialects of Swiss, Swabian, Badish and Bavarian German. Three of Wagner's doctoral students briefly joined him in Zurich to perform research at the prestigious Institute for Polymers, funded through the National Science Foundation's International program.

Recent trips to visit Sabine's family in nearby Weingarten and a bicycle tour of the area surrounding Muenster were "sandwiched between the Fulbright Orientation Meeting, which was held at the U.S. Embassy Club in Bonn, and invited lectures at Utrecht (Netherlands) and the European Colloid and Interface Society meeting," Wagner said.

Driving to these events meant a tour of scenic southern and central Germany on the German autobahn. Much like his sabbatical, he added, these trips went by "much too quickly."

-Ginger Pinholster