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5 Questions for a Scientist: Materials Scientist Linda Schadler

The gap between the science classroom and a real-life career in the sciences can seem distant for some students. The 5 Questions for a Scientist interview series was created to bridge this gap! We aim to inspire students to pursue careers in the sciences by showcasing the incredible diversity of STEM careers by talking to scientists themselves. See all of the interviews here.

Get to know Linda


Occupation: Scientist/Professor and an executive producer of The Molecularium Project (, the flagship outreach and education effort of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Nanotechnology Center
Institution: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Field: Materials Research
Focus: polymer nano composites

Linda Schadler, Ph.D., the Russell Sage Professor and Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has been active in materials research for over 20 years. Her research focuses on materials that will help improve energy efficiency. As a professor, she plans lectures and laboratories for students and advises them on their research. Dr. Schadler was recently named as one of the Top 100 Materials Scientists worldwide in the last decade by Times Higher Education, 2011. For more information on Linda, click here.

1. Explain what you do in your work in one sentence (or two!).
I am a professor at a university. I teach courses in materials engineering. I also do research (experiments) on how to make materials that will help improve energy efficiency. One example is a plastic filled with nanoscale particles that increases the efficiency of lights by 10%.

2. When did you first become interested in your field?
I first became interested in materials science and engineering in college. It was there that I learned that if we change the structure of a material at the atomic level we can change its properties (such as how strong it is or how well it conducts electricity).

3. What is your favorite part of being a scientist or of science in general?
My favorite part of being a scientist is being able to pursue my own ideas and direct my own research. An example of the flexibility of my work is my ability to work on outreach initiatives aimed at boosting global science literacy and encouraging young people to pursue careers in STEM.

4. What is a typical day like for you as a scientist?
There isn’t a typical day! I often meet with my students to discuss their data and plan new experiments. Often those meetings are with a group of people who include my other faculty and student collaborators. I also spend time writing and editing papers. As a professor, I plan lectures and laboratories for the students in my classes and grade laboratory reports or exams. I also have administrative duties and answer email!

5. Do you have any advice for young people interested in science today?
Pursue a career that will allow you to work in the area you are passionate about! Think about the many challenges our world faces (energy, environment, food, water and health) and consider what interests you and how you might help to solve one of the world’s greatest challenges. Work should not feel like a chore (most of the time). It should be an opportunity to pursue what interests you while making positive contributions.

image credit: linda schadler