Aug. 15, 2014
Northwestern rising sophomore Julia Abelsky is not only a talented NCAA Championship fencer for the Wildcats, but she is a highly-skilled scientist who has earned more than 40 awards for her work. Abelsky was recently featured in an issue of Northwestern's Weinberg Magazine. The story, entitled 'The Thirst for Knowledge' was written by Gerard Baker, and an excerpt of the piece follows.
Julia Abelsky '17 is fascinated by the way light scatters as it bounces off surfaces.
Three years ago, she read an article that suggested that invisibility was within scientific reach. And that's when her fascination turned into determination.
"I wanted to see how I could control the pathway of light," says Abelsky, who set off on a quest to make Harry Potter's invisibility cloak a reality. While still in high school, she began reading everything she could about nanotechnology and nanoscience. She soon secured an internship at a nearby college, where she learned to operate multi-million-dollar atomic-force and scanning-electron microscopes.
Eventually Abelsky created a large molecule -- a diblock copolymer -- with unusual refractive properties, which she used to engineer a nano "cloaking device" that renders tiny particles invisible.
The Weinberg College freshman has since won more than 40 awards for her work, including second place at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Her research has broad applications for a variety of fields, including telecommunications, deep-sea sensors, medical diagnostics, defense and optics.
"Several decades ago, we thought human flight was impossible, and now we think that invisibility is impossible," Abelsky says. "But just as we achieved human flight through research, we also have the ability to achieve invisibility. Now that we've imagined it, we just need to make it a reality."
Abelsky's pursuit, unique as it is, is not unlike the journey undertaken by countless others in the thirst for knowledge. It begins with a question that begs not only to be answered but explored from every possible angle. From there the search moves outward -- to points unknown and in directions the seeker might never have anticipated.
Along the way, the student often generates knowledge that takes on a life of its own, creating solutions, posing new problems and spurring even more questions for others to explore.
This place between the seen and the unseen is the scholar's natural home and the launching point for students and faculty at Weinberg College. For each, the path begins with curiosity -- and a question.
To read more of Baker's piece, please click here.
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