Chemistry Graduate Student Leo Delage-Laurin describes his research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.
Leo Delage-Laurin arrived at MIT in the Fall of 2018 and is originally from Quebec City, Canada. A member of the Swager lab, Leo’s main research effort is focused on the development of novel organic magneto-optical materials. Faraday rotation is a magneto-optical effect which results in a rotation of plane-polarized light propagating through an optical medium that is exposed to an external magnetic field. Whereas inorganic materials have been thoroughly studied for this effect, organic materials are rarely investigated for such a purpose. The development of design principles is therefore key to enable the next generation of magneto-optical materials. Informed by the well-established quantum mechanical model of magnetic circular birefringence, Leo seeks to design and synthesize molecular scaffolds exhibiting optimal magneto-optical properties. From these results, an intuitive understanding of the impact of chemical structure in thin-film Faraday rotators can be achieved, including the critical roles of molecular symmetry, rigidity, absorptivity, magnetism, anisotropy, and chirality.
“I remember my first organic chemistry class at 17 years old, and how amazed I was to realize that with a proper understanding of molecular interaction and reactivity, one can synthesize any molecule they want. Simply thinking about the fact that the last molecule I made could possible only exist in the vial on my bench was exhilarating. I also realized that organic chemistry lays at the intersection of several other fields and is intertwined with them. It seemed obvious to me that in order to make an impact in this world through science, I would need to not only become a good organic chemist, but also gain a solid understanding of the surrounding fields. Pursuing a PhD was therefore natural and needed, and the Swager lab was the perfect breeding ground for this.“
As the subject of this month’s Graduate Student Spotlight, Leo shares the best vacation he’s ever taken, the name he’d give a boat, the movie he could watch on a loop for 27 hours, and more.
- What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
A trip to Nepal and Indonesia, the best of mountains and beaches. From one week to the other, I went from running around in the heart of the Himalayas to surfing perfect waves in Bali.
- If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
Golf. All day, every day. It is the most frustrating and satisfying activity, all at once. And I love it.
- If you were on a 27 hour flight and could only watch one movie, what would it be?
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and I have seen this movie probably 50 times. But if one can look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for 27 hours, I can do the same for this cinematic masterpiece.
- Who would be the best person you could be stuck in an elevator with?
My little brother Antoine. The better version of me. He is an engineer and I am a chemist. I am sure we can put our brains together and get out of that elevator in a jiffy. Or we can just chat for hours waiting for help from people who actually know what they are doing.
- If you were given five million dollars to open a small museum, what kind of museum would you create?
A museum of ancient coins. I specifically really enjoy ancient Roman coins, my favorite being the Denarius of Brutus, or commonly known as the Ides of March coin. The coin was struck under the reign of Brutus to commemorate his assassination of Julius Caesar and millennia later has inspired the likes of Shakespeare. Only around 100 coins remain to this day.
- What’s worth spending more on to get the best?
Anything related to health, best produce and best products which equal best living. At least if you can afford it. Like Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, once said: When I look back on my life, I overpaid for my big successes every time. And when I tried to get a bargain, get it a little cheaper or get a better deal on it, I ended up usually either getting it and not happy I got it. Or missing it.
- If someone narrated your life, who would you want to be the narrator?
Denzel Washington. He is the perfect combination of grit and charisma, and I am convinced he can narrate anyone’s life and make it exciting or at least memorable.
- Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?
Iceland. The weather constantly changes from sun to rain to snow. In some areas you feel like you are on the moon. You can end up on a volcano, a glacier, a perfect beach or a massive grassy plain surrounded by wild horses running around. I think it is a must for every nature lover out there.
- What invention doesn’t get a lot of love, but has greatly improved the world?
The airplane. What a concept! People love to complain about flying and I don’t get it. There might be delays, but you get to move toward you selected destination at 500 miles per hour sipping on a Dewar’s neat while watching an Adam Sandler movie.
- What movie, picture, or video always makes you laugh no matter how often you watch it?
OSS 117: Le Caire, nid d’espions. French comedy with Jean Dujardin. It is a parody of the spy genre, a.k.a. James Bond movies and its absolutely hilarious if you speak French.
- What food do you crave most often?
Paneer tikka masala. An Indian dish made of marinated paneer cheese served in a spiced tomato gravy. I enjoy this vegetarian alternative to chicken tikka masala much better.
- What is your secret talent?
Making demi-glace and other types of heavily or, should I say, heavenly reduced stocks. I worked in a French restaurant for four years, and although I did not work in the kitchen, I fell in love with the art of French gastronomy. The techniques, the details, the tastes, the tradition, everything about it is amazing, except the screaming and shouting during service.
- What sport could you play the longest in a televised game, without anyone discovering you aren’t a professional athlete?
Hockey, as long as the coach does not call my line. Or I could play goalie and make it look good, but not necessarily play it good.
- An epic feast is held in your honor, what’s on the table?
Foie gras and Champagne, among around another one thousand dishes and beverages. But these two are going to be served. Ethically produced foie gras, of course.
- What’s something common from your childhood that will seem strange to future generations?
Using Mercurochrome to disinfect wounds. It is a topical antiseptic made of an organic mercury compound. It is no longer sold in the USA after the FDA classified it as not safe due to its mercury content.
- What skill would you like to master?
Traditional spearfishing. I love fishing, swimming and snorkeling, and I am a big advocate of eating local, sustainable produce. A match made in heaven.
- Where was the most amazing sunrise you have ever seen?
On top of Haleakala volcano in Maui. I woke up at 3 am, went up the mountain/volcano and waited for the most magnificent sunrise over the clouds. I had music playing in my headphones and the song was Paradise from Coldplay.
- What are the best and worst purchases you’ve ever made?
Worst purchase is a 1999 Jeep Cherokee Sport, what a lemon that one was. But it looked good and that is what matters. Best purchases are my Lululemon clothes. Although my girlfriend usually buys those for me.
- If you owned a boat, what would you name it and why?
Juliette, the name of my childhood Labrador.
- If you could know the absolute and total truth to one question, what question would you ask?
I would like to know if there is such a thing as a theory of everything, and if so, what is it. This is the ultimate question in my book.
Many thanks to Leo for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come!