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Sergans are a dynamic research duo

04-18-2012

Professors Vassili and Tatiana Sergan are an academic powerhouse in Sacramento State’s Physics and Astronomy Department. Thus, it’s fitting that the talented pair have been honored by the Faculty Senate as co-recipients of an Outstanding Scholarly and Creative Activities Award.

Provost Joseph Sheley presided over the ceremony at 3 p.m. Thursday, April 19, in the University Union, Redwood Room.

Sergans

The collaborative effort by Tatiana and Vassili Sergan on the refinement of eyeglass lenses could eventually result in the elimination of bifocals and trifocals.

The Sergans came to Sacramento State 10 years ago after distinguishing themselves first at the Institute of Physics National Academy of Science Ukraine. They met there in 1987, when Vassili was a graduate student and Tatiana was working on her senior project. They were married a year later, and he was hired as a researcher at the Academy while she served as a junior scientist.

In 1993, Vassili won a fellowship to the world renowned Orsay group at the University of Paris-Sud, Orsay, France – a center for liquid crystal research founded by a Nobel Prize laureate, Professor Pierre-Gilles de Gennes. Tatiana joined him on a small research fellowship from the same Orsay group.

The Sergans came to the United States in 1996 when Tatiana landed a postdoctoral position at Kent State University, which boasts the Liquid Crystal Institute, a center for liquid crystal science and technology. Vassili joined her three months later via a postdoctoral appointment. She worked for nearly a year researching for IMAX to improve switchable glasses for 3D imaging. Thereafter, she worked on other industrial contracts and taught while he focused on research and securing grants.

The Sergans were preeminent in the field of liquid crystals, with Vassili specializing in switching speed of liquid crystal displays while Tatiana focused on optics, improving viewing angles of displays and colors.

It was Vassili’s turn to secure a job at Sac State in 2002, and Tatiana worked for several years as an adjunct instructor. In addition to teaching a full load of classes, he spent much of the first two years building a research laboratory.

“Had it not been for Tatiana’s help,” he says, “it would have taken twice as long to complete.” She has been no less instrumental in his research projects in addition to pursuing her own projects. “She continued to research, write and was a consultant to private companies,” he says, “before she was hired full time.”

Vassili won the President’s Award for Research and Creative Activity last fall. Look at a liquid crystal monitor for a computer or television set, or a cell phone display, and one is seeing some of the Segrans’ technology. They also developed a new method of building liquid crystal optical elements, including lenses with variable focal length, switchable gratings, and prisms. Vassili also developed a method of manufacturing bistable “green” liquid crystal displays that requires power only to change the displayed image.

The Sergans’ collaborative effort on the refinement of eyeglass lenses, which has been patented, could eventually result in the elimination of bifocals and trifocals. They work so closely, Tatiana says, “that it can be difficult to differentiate,” their respective contributions. But she hastens to add that “he’s an outstanding scientist.”

The Sergans’ collaborative and supportive relationship extends beyond the lab. Both are excellent teachers, although she readily concedes that her confident husband is a natural communicator. “She’s highly organized,” Vassili counters “and is a much better teacher than me.” Both are deeply grateful for the support of Dean Jill Trainer, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, the University Foundation and the Physics and Astronomy Department for encouraging research and providing financial support.

– Alan Miller
amiller@csus.edu