Grad student sits at an outdoor cafe

Graduate Student Spotlight: Ryan Duncan

Categories: Students

Chemistry Graduate Student Ryan Duncan describes his research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.

Originally from Buckhannon West Virginia, Ryan Duncan has been at MIT for nearly four years, and is a member of Professor Keith Nelson‘s research group. Ryan uses optical techniques to experimentally investigate acoustic phenomena and phonon-mediated energy transport effects in solids. Key areas of focus are on non-diffusive micro- and nano-scale thermal transport physics, and photoacoustic measurements to investigate vibrational dynamics in complex material systems. He also has been participating in the development of beamline techniques to investigate these effects at free-electron laser (FEL) and synchrotron facilities.

As the June 2018 Graduate Student Spotlight, Ryan reveals the time period he’d like to spend a month in, the piece of entertainment he’d like to erase from his mind so that he could experience it all over again, a few items on his bucket list, and much more!

  1.  If you could spend a month in any time period, which one would you choose, and why?
    The Enlightenment. It would be cool to spend some time in a period when logic, reason, and empiricism were widely-accepted cultural norms.
  2. What game or movie universe would you most like to live in?
    Either Tamriel from The Elder Scrolls or Hyrule from The Legend of Zelda.
  3. What would be your first question after waking up from being cryogenically frozen for 100 years?
    Who won in 2020?
  4. Who are three of your favorite fictional characters?
    1. Han Solo (Star Wars)
    2. Beren Erchamion (Tolkien’s legendarium)
    3. Yossarian (Catch 22)
  5. What are you most looking forward to in the next 10 years?
    Getting married and having a family at some point.
  6. What piece of entertainment do you wish you could erase from your mind so that you could experience for the first time again?
    The Adagio from Gustav Mahler’s 3rd Symphony
  7. What is on your bucket list?
    1. Become fluent in a language other than English
    2. Visit every continent
    3. Hike a stretch of the Appalachian Trail
  8. What is your favorite four-legged creature?
    The dachshund
  9. Why did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
    I was broadly interested in research with applications to alternative energy technologies, but have since become more interested in fundamental science.
  10. If you could have a never-ending candle that smelled like anything you wanted, what fragrance would you want it to be?
    Freshly-mowed grass.
  11. What’s the most interesting building you’ve ever seen or been in?
    The Aachener Dom in Aachen, Germany.
  12. If someone narrated your life, who would you want to be the narrator?
    James Earl Jones
  13. If animals could talk, which animal do you think would be the most annoying, and why?
    Definitely Llamas. They spit a lot as they are, and if they were able to talk they would in addition spit while talking. It would be a total mess.
  14. What’s the most interesting documentary you’ve ever watched?
    Blood on the Mountain
  15. If you were given five million dollars to open a small museum, what kind of museum would you create?
    A museum covering the history of laser technologies.
  16. What are some of the best vacations you’ve had?
    Nearly every summer of my childhood we would roadtrip to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. At first I wasn’t a big fan because I was afraid of roller coasters, but I became a pretty big coaster buff after a while and would always look forward to returning the next year.
  17. Who besides your parents has had the greatest impact on your life?
    There are several, but one of the first that comes to mind is my maternal grandfather. He’s probably the person that I try to live up to the most.
  18. What was your favorite book as a child, and what is your favorite book now?
    Solely from an entertainment rather than literary prospective: As a child, any of the Harry Potter books. Now, probably the Silmarillion.
  19. What bit of trivia do you know that is very interesting, but also very useless?
    In Ohio it is illegal to hunt whales on Sundays.
  20. If you could pick any career other than the one you’ve chosen, what would it be?
    Natural historian.

Many thanks to Ryan for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come!