5 questions with… Dan Gil, recent PhD grad who led workshop for Congolese scientists

Maryse Nkoua, Todd P. Haskell and Dan Gil pose for a photo each with a hand out together
Dan Gil (right) with the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Congo Todd P. Haskell (center) and Maryse Nkoua (left).

In 2017, Case Western Reserve University hosted 25 rising leaders from sub-Saharan African countries as a site for the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders program.

And though the program ended nearly two years ago, it continues to connect some members of the Case Western Reserve community with their counterparts in Africa.

This spring, Dan Gil, who in May earned his PhD in chemical engineering from Case Western Reserve, visited one of the scholars, Maryse Nkoua, in the Republic of Congo through a reciprocal exchange offered through the Mandela fellowship program, which is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative.

Gil and Nkoua, believed to be the first female physics faculty member in the Republic of Congo, previously collaborated on research with Dan Lacks, chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the C. Benson Branch Professor of Chemical Engineering. Lacks was the academic director for the Young African Leaders Initiative at CWRU in 2017.

The two partnered to offer a workshop in molecular simulations to scientists in the country. Computer simulations can be done remotely, thus providing researchers in places with limited resources, such as the Republic of Congo, access to cutting-edge research opportunities.

In all, 25 participants attended the workshop, which Gil said was well-received by an attentive, passionate audience of exceptionally skilled scientists.

“The challenges they face come from the lack of infrastructure, definitely not a lack of good human resources,” Gil said. “One of the best things I learned from them is that they really believe in a better future for the Republic of the Congo; everyone I asked said this to me—both professionals and children, even. The scientists have chosen to stay and work to improve their country rather than find a more comfortable life elsewhere.”

The opportunity inspired Gil, and now he hopes conduct future work that is relevant for both developed and developing countries.

Now, though, he looks toward his postdoctoral work. Earlier this week, Gil started a position at the Institute for Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago, where he will conduct fundamental materials research.

Read on to see how Gil answered this week’s five questions.

1. What’s next on your reading list?

What I’m reading right now is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

2. Do you consider yourself an early bird or a night owl?

I get up whenever I want and go to bed whenever I want, but I get as much as I can done when I’m awake. I feel like an afternoon squirrel.

3. What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

That I grew up in South Korea for nine years.

4. What do you think is the most beautiful spot in Cleveland?

I would have to say the Wade Lagoon.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

I like the people a lot. It’s really friendly here, very collaborative.