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Physics lab will enable majors from all colleges to perform advanced experiments

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When University of Louisiana at Lafayette alum Dr. Grant Gibson enrolled in the doctoral program at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, he knew it was “ a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

The science and technology institution is among the Top 50 universities in the world, according to “Times Higher Education,” a magazine based in London that ranks Harvard University No. 1.

Gibson, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics at UL Lafayette in 1995 and 1997, respectively, switched paths at the University of Manchester. There, he earned a doctorate in corrosion science and materials engineering in 2000.

“To be able to study in Europe, at a school with such a solid reputation, capped a great academic foundation for me that started at UL,” Gibson said.

His interest in corrosion science and materials engineering began when, as a graduate student, he took a course taught by Dr. James Garber, professor emeritus in chemical engineering, and “fell in love with the subject.”

Garber suggested Gibson apply to the university in England. Following that advice paid off. The New Iberia, La., native went on to found and lead GATE Energy, which stands for Gibson Applied Technology and Engineering. The Houston-based international firm provides engineering and project management services to the oil and gas industry.

The road to success wasn’t easy. While enrolled at UL Lafayette, Gibson supplemented scholarships with money he earned maintaining physics lab equipment and teaching courses as a graduate assistant.

At the University of Manchester, he worked in a café, and took out loans to pay for his education. Often, since he received no financial aid while there, Gibson made his own lab equipment.

“I’d make equipment like temperature controllers and heaters instead of buying them intact, because I simply didn’t have the means,” he said.

Thanks to Gibson and wife Melissa, students taking a physics lab course at UL Lafayette won’t have to perform experiments on devices they’ve cobbled together. A recent donation the couple made to the University has helped establish the Grant and Melissa Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory in the Department of Physics.

“UL provided me with a quality education, and I have always thought it’s good when people want to give back to their universities. That was a goal in my life and I was finally in a position to be able to do so,” he said. The lab was dedicated in September during a ceremony in Broussard Hall.

The lab will enable undergraduate students enrolled in a physics lab course to perform the same sort of experiments typically conducted by physics graduate students and research assistants. They include dynamic light scattering, a research technique that determines the distribution profile of small particles, and nuclear spectroscopy, a technique that exploits the magnetic properties of atomic nuclei.

UL Lafayette President Dr. Joseph Savoie said the new interdisciplinary lab “will provide hands on experience for bright young people who need challenges. We’re attracting great students, and great students need great facilities.”

Photo: Dr. Grant Gibson and wife Melissa visit with graduate student Kevin Pitre during a recent dedication ceremony. A recent donation the couple made to the University has helped establish the Grant and Melissa Interdisciplinary Research Laboratory in the Department of Physics. Doug Dugas/University of Louisiana at Lafayette

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