Lydia Smentek

Lydia SmentekLidia Smentek was born in Toruń, Poland, the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus.  She received a Masters degree (1971) with highest honors and Ph.D. (1979)  from Nicolaus Copernicus in Toruń specializing in theoretical physics.  Since 1971 she has been a faculty member of the Institute of Physics at Copernicus University.  In 1982-83 she was a postdoctoral fellow with Professor Charlotte Froese Fischer in Computer Science Department at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee. She completed her Habilitation in 1993. Since 1984 she has been an Adjoint Professor of Chemistry at Vanderbilt University. In addition to her teaching assignments in her Toruń, she has also taught graduate courses in the Department of Physics at Vanderbilt.

Although Smentek started her scientific career as a student performing calculations for DNA, which was a hot topic at the end of 60’s, she left the field of  biophysics at the point of its real birth. Over the years she was also involved in quantum chemistry; worked for John Van Wazer, the pioneer of phosphorous NMR in the Chemistry Department of Vanderbilt; and recently with B. A. Hess on the theoretical study of the mechanism of the synthesis of lancesterol, precursor of cholesterol. For one year she worked with Charlotte Froese Fischer, a student of D. Hartree, applying and implementing Fischer’s famous MCHF program. In fact from that time she has been associated with Vanderbilt University. But the main research of her scientific career has been focused on theoretical atomic spectroscopy. In particular she is working on the theoretical models of the description of spectroscopic properties of f-electron systems. As a result of her extensive studies and the precise nature of her research, she belongs to a narrow group of world recognized experts on theoretical models that explain the properties of materials doped by lanthanide ions.  When she began working in this area in 1971 the field was considered to be rather esoteric, and the Racah algebra used in the atomic spectroscopy was treated as an exotic language familiar to only a few.  Presently it is seen from the literature that materials doped by the lanthanide ions have revolutionized modern science and technology. This field of research, due to the outstanding (and very often amazing) properties of lanthanide ions is developing rapidly, and it has come to the forefront of material science, biochemistry, molecular biology and the medical sciences.

In addition to new theoretical approaches of the description of electric dipole and magnetic dipole f-f transitions, electronic Raman scattering, host and impurity sensitized luminescence, both in non-relativistic and effectively relativistic formulations, Smentek has completed an extensive package of unique numerical programs. Due to this package of programs it was possible for her to perform the only truly ab initio calculations on these large systems, which have contributed widely to the understanding of their spectroscopic properties.  For the past 13 years she has had a long-standing collaboration with late Professor Brian Wybourne, one of the founders of  field of lanthanide spectroscopy. She is currently collaborating with Professors B. Andes Hess, Jr, and Darryl Bornhop of Vanderbilt University working on the theoretical description of the structure, stability and spectroscopic properties of novel materials that are based on the lanthanide chelates. These are the cages built of the organic macromolecules that encapsulate the lanthanide ions responsible for the labeling signals in various tissues. This theoretical research is devoted not only to the reproduction of the observed phenomena, but its main aim is to be able to predict and design the architecture of optimal probes, sensors and markers that are applicable in non-invasive diagnostic and efficient clinical medicine.

Besides the publications based on her scholarly work, she has also edited four special issues of leading scientific journals;  (1) in 2000 Molecular Physics devoted to Professor Charlotte Froese Fischer on the occasion of her 70th birthday;  (2) in 2002 International Journal of Quantum Chemistry a memorial issue dedicated to her colleague Professor Staszek Kwiatkowski; (3) in 2003 Molecular Physics on the Occasion of the 40th Anniversary of Judd-Ofelt Theory; and (4) in 2004 Molecular Physics a memorial issue dedicated to her colleague and collaborator Professor Brian G. Wybourne.  In 2003 she organized a special session at a conference held in Poland to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Judd-Ofelt theory, the main theoretical tool for the reliable description of the f-electron spectra that is used widely by spectroscopists.  This theory is based on two papers published independently and simultaneously in 1961 by Professors Brian Judd and George Ofelt.  Due to her activity and organizational skills these two “fathers” of the theory, who never had collaborated with each other, met at this conference for the first time ever. Most recently she has published a memorial book Brian Garner Wybourne. Memories and Memoirs as a tribute to his scientific achievements and leading role in the scientific community.