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Physics Alumnus’ Passion Led Him to Work in Japan

By Rosie DiGironimo and Nicole Carrera

Published on June 1, 2020

 Christopher Petoukhoff’s C’11, Phys’11, PhDFrom the Philadelphia area, Christopher Petoukhoff’s C’11, Phys’11, PhD, passion for science and engineering has given him many opportunities, including over the last three years when he lived and worked in Japan as  a postdoctoral researcher in materials science and engineering at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology.

“Japan is an amazing country to live in,” said Dr. Petoukhoff. “It is safe and the people are friendly.” Additionally, he has taken the opportunity to travel across Asia during his time living on the other side of the globe.

What began as a 10-week fellowship stay, turned into over 3 years, a full-time position, and the opportunity to continue research and co-author publications about his work which focuses on the design and fabrication of nanostructured metallic thin-films, which act as disordered plasmonic metasurfaces 

Dr. Petoukhoff explored many options while at USciences. Originally a pharmacy major, he soon realized that biochemistry better suited his interests. Dr. Petoukhoff then became interested in physics, and dual majored in the two before pursuing his PhD at Rutgers University. He used his time at USciences to develop his skills as a researcher and gain experience using high-level technology, both skills that have proven to be crucial in his career today. 

Crediting the opportunities to begin conducting research early in his time as a USciences student, Dr. Petoukhoff said it was a variety of experiences and hands-on time with faculty that set his undergraduate experience apart and prepared him for graduate school. 

“Much larger universities wouldn’t have such an opportunity to conduct research independently; students would just be following orders,” he said. “At USciences you really get to do whatever you want in terms of your research project and you begin thinking about life as a researcher from an early age.”

Dr. Petoukhoff recently spoke with students during the Physics Sigma Pi Sigma Honor Society virtual induction ceremony. Dr. Petoukhoff echoed the isolation of physical distancing that we are experiencing due to the  COVID-19 pandemic, saying that Sir. Issac Newton experienced a similar lockdown during the bubonic plague in 1665. 

Newton completed major calculations in mathematics that would later be born into the field of calculus,the famous apple tree that sparked his new theories for gravity was located on the farm where he spent this isolation.  Due to his boredom, he even stuck a needle into his own eye to better understand how lenses and light worked. 

“We are currently living in a very similar situation to what Isaac Newton experienced during the pandemic of 1665; however, life in 2020 is starkly different from the 17th century,” said Dr. Petoukhoff. 

Technology has given curious knowledge-seeking individuals much more ammunition than Newton had available to him, Dr. Petoukhoff said, a physicist is always going to crave innovation and have a desire to solve a problem. 

“Myself and other physics professors and researchers at my University are coming up with creative solutions to address the global shortage of Personal Protective Equipment such as using 3D printers and lasers to create and cut face shields out, designing sterilization boxes for N95 masks using ultraviolet light for disinfection, and even proposing ideas to make N95 masks from cotton candy-like machines,” said Dr. Petoukhoff. 

While the pandemic has caused a lot of hardships and problems worldwide it has allowed for unique opportunities for people to work together to learn and adjust to solve the problem. 

“You are at your first step in a lifelong journey of learning, problem-solving, and challenging yourselves to achieve further heights,” he said to the physics students. “I encourage you to remember that an object at rest tends to remain at rest and an object in motion tends to remain in motion unless it is acted on by a non-zero net force. Be sure to utilize your time in lockdown wisely so that you will constantly remain in the motion of moving towards a better future.” 

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