NU husband, wife prof duo win Fellowships

Lizzie Rivard

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Most married couples share an address, a checking account or a car. Northwestern professors Brian and Teri Odom share the distinction of having won the Packard Fellowship in Science and Engineering from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Brian Odom, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, is the most recent recipient of the grant. Teri Odom, an associate professor of chemistry, received Packard funding for her work in the department in 2003.

“I feel very honored,” Brian Odom said. “Northwestern gave Teri a chance and then gave me a chance to do well as a young researcher.”

The Packard Foundation selects 16 Fellows annually out of 100 applicants from 50 different universities, according to Franklin M. Orr, Jr., a professor of engineering at Stanford University and chairman of the Packard Fellowship Advisory Panel, which reviews the applications.

“The idea behind a Packard Fellowship is to find really talented people and give them some resources that are really up to them to decide how to use,” Orr said.

He added the review process is elaborate and “the competition is really tough.”

Brian Odom’s research concerns isolating a single molecule in a radio frequency “trap” to measure its energy. The technology for these experiments could be used to examine whether the ratios of electron mass to proton mass change over time. He plans to look for differences in vibrations between molecules with a right or left-handed twist in their structures.

“There might actually be a small difference that nobody has been able to see before,” he said.

His wife is still using her 2003 Packard Fellowship funding to conduct research, manipulating light on a “nano” scale using metallic and non-metallic structures. Her research may yield a number of applications, she said, including the possible destruction of cancer cells by heating metal nanoparticles. Teri Odom received $625,000 in fellowship money in 2003. Brian Odom’s recently granted fellowship will total $875,000 over the course of five years.

Receiving the same grant and conducting research at the same university has not led to competition between the couple, they said.

“Being at Northwestern has provided a lot of opportunities to pursue our scientific interests together,” Teri Odom said. “We don’t actually compete, it’s more, ‘how can I help them to be more successful?'”

Physics and Astronomy Department Chairman Venkat Chandrasekhar, who knows both Brian and Teri Odom, said he does not think the Odoms’ marriage has any bearing on their status as Packard Fellows.

“It’s an interesting distinction for them, but it doesn’t affect what they do as independent researchers,” Chandrasekhar said.

Brian Odom agreed and added not everything in the couple’s home life is about science.”Scientifically, we cross over without much interaction allowing us to be competitors,” Brian Odom said. “We actually try to avoid talking about science when we’re home at night.”