(This interview originally appeared in the Chemical and Engineering News on feb. 22, 2021)
Lynden Archer is known for his work with “hairy” nanoparticles. He studies structure, dynamics, and transport at liquid-solid interfaces using polymer and hybrid materials with applications in energy storage technologies. He cofounded NOHMs Technologies to commercialize novel battery materials developed in his Cornell University lab. NOHMs, which stands for nanoscale organic hybrid materials, was named one of C&EN’s 10 Start-Ups to Watch in 2015. Archer is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the American Physical Society. Simone A. Douglas-Green spoke with Archer about how he chose his research focus and what it takes to start a successful company. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lynden Archer: I was about 9 or 10 years old. My mom bought me a science book, and one of the chapters extolled the wonders of brewer’s yeast, which affects metabolism. My mom was entrepreneurial and raised broiler chickens as an income supplement, and she allowed me to experiment with metabolism by adding brewer’s yeast to a small portion of her flock. I had some chickens as controls even though I didn’t know what controls were at the time. I felt like a real scientist using the essential tools of science and discovery to answer a question, and that ultimately gave me more confidence.
SDG: As an aspiring professor, I am trying to figure out what the research focus of the Douglas-Green lab would look like one day. How did you figure out the research focus of the Archer Research Group?
LA: I think this is something aspiring professors stress themselves out too much over—the thought of coming out on day 1 with a career-defining research direction that they’re going to follow faithfully throughout a career. An essential part of growing and becoming successful as a scientist is understanding your core skill set and the things that excite you and working to develop those fully. Successful professors must be able to see change coming and have the tools ready to adapt. That means you’re reading the literature, you’re sitting in talks at conferences that aren’t in your area, and you’re hearing what other communities are thinking. The graduate student and postdoc years are excellent times to identify and burnish these core skills.
SDG: This is fantastic advice to hear, especially as a new postdoc in a chemical engineering lab coming from a biomedical engineering background looking to expand my skill set in drug delivery design. Can you talk about the design process of your nanoparticles?