Physics student to meet Nobel Prize winners in Germany

FIU physics Ph.D. student Idaykis Rodriguez ’08 is packing her bags and passport and headed to Lindau, Germany, this summer now that she has been invited to attend the 62nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

The Cuban-born Panther is the only FIU student granted the opportunity to meet with more than 25 Nobel Prize winners this July.

“I felt super-excited when I found out, are you kidding? I’ve never been to Europe or that side of the world, just the Caribbean,” she said. “This event will benefit my doctoral research and is a great forum to network with other scientists. It’s just a great motivator for me.”

Rodriguez and other invited researchers from around the world will attend presentations and panel discussions. They also will interact with the Nobel Laureates through small group discussions and social programming.

“This is the most incredible opportunity I’ve ever heard of, to meet and be able to talk about your research with living Nobel Prize winners,” said Eric Brewe, assistant professor of science education in the College of Education and Rodriguez’s Ph.D. advisor. “Idaykis is studying something that is very unique and germane to the laureate conference – physics expertise. You can’t find someone to discuss that with that’s more of an expert than a Nobel Laureate.”

Rodriguez’s research

As a sophomore in 2004, Rodriguez turned to physics Professor Laird Kramer for guidance and mentoring. Kramer introduced her to Modeling Instruction and the Physics Research Education Group, a research group focused on developing and implementing research-based reform for physics and physics education programs.

“I reached out to Dr. Kramer and he helped me become more involved in the physics community inside and outside the university,” she said. “I noticed the department was very close-knit and had a strong sense of community. That naturally attracted me to the field and was a great starting point for my career.”

In 2008, her work from the previous year with the Department of Energy’s Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships was selected for a poster presentation at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) annual meeting.

“The AAAS meeting showed me how powerful and influential the physics community can be,” Rodriguez said. “It made my passion for the field grow into trying to understand how researchers become a part of that community. I realized I wanted to focus my graduate research on physics education and expertise.”

Traditional research on physics expertise focuses on the cognitive abilities of physicists to solve problems. In other words, a physics expert is defined by differences in knowledge and skill sets. Rodriguez’s doctoral dissertation, however, examines how expertise is developed in social contexts.

“My theory is that expertise is, in many ways, a learned behavior,” she said. “Current research doesn’t look at how physicists are socialized into becoming experts. The best situation to observe this is when a young researcher is part of a group, a community. Having a sense of identity within that community is an important component of becoming an expert.”

Rodriguez is set to defend her dissertation in 2013. Upon graduating, she hopes to further STEM education and help minority students meet their academic goals.

“Physics education research is an uncommon specialization. Not every Ph.D. program offers that, but FIU does. Ida represents that very well,” Brewe said. “She’s a talented physicist and a talented education researcher. She represents the FIU student body and Miami very well.”

And after Lindau…

After the week-long conference in Germany, Rodriguez will meet up with her husband, Vicente (a 2006 College of Business Administration alumnus), in Paris for a two-week vacation in France and Italy. The couple met as undergraduates and wed in April 2011.

“We saw this as a great opportunity to visit Europe together for the first time,” she said. “It’s the honeymoon we’ve always dreamed of. We’re both big fans of history and culture, and to have the chance to visit the places where western civilization was born is amazing.”

To learn more about Idaykis’s personal journey, check out the video below: