James C. Phillips, who will speak at GOMD a symposium in his honor, discusses the idea of “big data” in this YouTube video, “Six Impossible Things.” Credit: YouTube.

Have you ever met a verb?

This is how I think of people who are all action. They have a great deal of energy, seem to be always in motion, and their enormous intellectual curiosity generates new ideas at a dizzying pace. Because they move so fast, their intellectual wakes cut a wide swath.

Allow me to highlight three of the “verbs” that will be at the Glass and Optical Materials Division Annual Meeting that will take place in conjunction with PACRIM 10, June 2-7. They are James Charles Phillips, Arun Varshneya, and John Mauro.

Phillips (Verb #1) will be honored in the aptly named, “James C. Phillips Honorary Symposium.” The symposium’s eight sessions span the entire five days of the conference’s technical program! Phillips, who celebrated his 80th birthday in March, is a condensed matter physicist by training, but his influence appears to be boundless.

The symposium organizer, Corning researcher John Mauro (Verb #2) says of Phillips, “Every decade since he began working, he has made huge contributions to science.”

Phillips is credited with developing semiconductor pseudopotential theory in the 1950s, which provided the basis for more than 30,000 published articles on the electronic structure of materials. In the 1960s, he dove into understanding superconductivity tunneling mechanisms. According to a Wikipedia biography, his microscopic theory of superconductive tunneling usurped the prevailing theory of the time, which had been proposed by the late Nobel-laureate, John Bardeen.

Phillips earned BS and MS degrees in mathematics and physics from the University of Chicago, and his PhD in algebraic topology. In the 1970s, the full weight of that education and research backgrounds led to the development of the topological constraint theory of glasses, in particular, as it applies to the optimization of glassy networks.

And, this is the point of intersection among the three “verbs” of this story. While Arun Varshneya (Verb #3) was a professor at Alfred University, he introduced Mauro—who was then an undergraduate student in glass science—to Phillips’ papers on topological constraint theory. The ideas resonated with Mauro, and he developed them further in his PhD work. At Corning Inc., Mauro used topological constraint theory to engineer Gorilla Glass 3, as explained in an earlier post.

“Jim works at the intersection of physics and glass,” Mauro says. “Not many of us work in both fields. He is interested not only in knowing the science of glass, but also in applying it to glass, including industrial glass.”

However, Mauro notes, “Jim’s work as a condensed matter physicist has so much influence in traditional fields and others,” as his work in the 1980s and 1990s gives witness. In the 1980s, he made significant contributions to theory of high temperature superconductors, and in the 1990s, he contributed new discoveries about disordered networks to the field.

In a 2011 lecture on “big data” posted on YouTube, Phillips quips, “One of the things physicists worry about is that there is nothing left to do.” Phillips is proof to the contrary. As the 21st century unfolds, he is applying his considerable intellectual talents and experience to detecting and fighting cancer. The new research involves taking theories used to optimize glass design and applying them to protein design. Phillips will provide the details himself in his talk, “Curing cancer using engineered viruses,” on Wednesday afternoon (June 5) at 2:00 p.m.

Varshneya, now professor emeritus of glass science at Alfred University, will be teaching a short course at GOMD: “Fundamentals of Glass Science.” He traditionally teaches this course at GOMD and usually to a full-capacity crowd.

It is not possible to separate Varshneya-the-glassman from Varshneya-the-teacher. Varshneya says he knew he would be a teacher from a young age. “I loved teaching ever since I was an 8th grader back in India,” where he tutored some of his classmates in the basics of math and science. “I knew then that I wanted to be a teacher some day,” he writes in an email.

As a teacher, he says his primary objective is to motivate his students to learn more, starting with the basics. The short course is designed for professionals working in other scientific or engineering disciplines and builds on their knowledge and experience, like “dendrites attempting to develop lots of branches,” he says. This year, he says, he plans to incorporate more examples from everyday life to demonstrate glass science principles and practices.

I’ve sat in on Varshneya’s course. He is a verb.

Register here for PACRIM–GOMD and for the “Fundamentals of Glass Science” course.