Being a Fulbrighter will always be an important part of my life. The opportunity to study and immerse myself in a culture abroad opens your horizons and makes you grow in every way. Even still, I never imagined that Fulbright would have an impact on my life in an even more profound way. I am from El Salvador, and in 2011, I was awarded a Fulbright grant to pursue a master’s in tourism at the University of Florida. Upon graduating, I returned to El Salvador, but soon after, I was offered a job with an international organization based in Washington, DC.
During my Fulbright, I was involved in Fulbright-specific networking opportunities such as gateway orientations, enrichment seminars and the Fulbright Association Chapter events. I made a lot of friends through these events and I have visited them both in the United States and around the world whenever I have the chance.
New to the DC area, I joined the Fulbright Association National Capital Area Chapter. In November 2014, I attended one of the chapter events: an open house reception at the Goethe-Institut. There is where I met Martin. Martin was at that time a visiting researcher on a Fulbright grant from Denmark, doing a one-year research project at the National Institutes of Health. During our first conversation, I recognized the same spark in his eyes when we talked about our dreams, passions and careers. Despite being from very different countries and cultures that speak different languages, have different professional opportunities and different social norms, we found in each other a partner with the same values, goals and dreams.
Janet Rafner, 2015-2016, Denmark (center) with fellow Fulbright U.S. Student Natalie Hoidal (left) and Truman Fellow Jordan Went (right) attending Janet Rafner’s ‘Call Me Quantum’ Exhibition featured during Copenhagen’s Culture Night at the Niels Bohr Institute. Traversing through the exhibit, one experiences a range of phenomena such as the atomic orbitals, tunnel effect, wave particle duality and superconductivity from orthogonal perspectives. Layers of design, graphics, and illustrations unveil the scientific process, revealing the compelling and elegant physics that inspired the work. This exhibit displays contents created by the Physics Reimagined group at the University Paris Sud and The National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France. Design in collaboration with the students from the design school ENSCI-Les Ateliers and Ecole Estienne. (Photo Credit: Professor Robert Feidenhans’l)
While on my Fulbright grant in Interdisciplinary Studies in Denmark, I have been so fortunate to interact with passionate, dedicated like-minded people and kindred spirits across many disciplines. From creative designers and game developers to physicists, computer programmers, cognitive scientists and public outreach experts, these individuals form a unique community dedicated to enhancing science and mathematics comprehension and research outcomes. As a rule, they are intensely curious, willing to take risks and experiment, and passionate about collaborating, even when the project is only tangentially related to their core research. The result is a continuous flow of inspirational energy and a sense that anything might be possible if the right group of people come together.
In this environment where progress often comes from discovering and following unconventional paths, having great mentors has also been crucial to my Fulbright work. The process has allowed me to excel while contributing to diverse scientific and outreach projects, tapping into my own motivations and talents, and building new collaboration skills. The projects have helped me better understand how to bring the concepts of complex physics into the vernacular as well as make them accessible to a wider range of researchers. Professors Rikke Schmidt Kjærgaard and Jacob Sherson, my sponsors and mentors at Aarhus University have made these projects possible – I couldn’t ask for a more supportive faculty. In coming years, I look forward to both being a mentor and having new mentors so I can continue to explore how technical tools and artistic creativity can be used to express complex concepts in science, and to share her findings internationally.