Grenoble sabbatical offers professors opportunity of a lifetime
Harley Johnson and Amy Wagoner Johnson were able to take their family on the trip of a lifetime to Grenoble, France, for their individual sabbatical studies.
Johnson, professor and Kritzer Faculty Scholar, received the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Research Award; Wagoner Johnson, an associate professor, was awarded the Chair of Excellence by the NanoSciences Foundation. These prestigious awards allowed the couple to relocate for 13 months to the scenic Grenoble—considered one of the leading high-tech cities in Europe and a mountainous area rich in culture—while also exploring their own areas of interest.
Johnson worked in CEA (the French national energy lab) with Dr. Pascal Pochet, and in the Université Grenoble-Alpes with Dr. Marc Fivel. Wagoner Johnson worked in Laboratoire des Matériaux et du Génie Physique (the Materials and Physical Engineering Laboratory) at Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble (Grenoble Institute of Technology), collaborating primarily with Professor Catherine Picart.
“The sabbatical opened up more areas in which we wanted to continue working,” said Johnson. “Although what we set out to do had no definitive conclusion, it really opened up some new horizons for what we were studying.”
The programs also provided them with new information for furthering their own studies back at Illinois.
And mechanical engineering wasn’t the only field of learning for the professors. Settling into a new culture came with its own lessons. Transitioning two young children into a new country and learning to overcome the language barrier in the workplace were experiments of their own.
Despite the obstacles of the new lifestyle, they both agreed that the opportunity to work with brilliant scientists and explore Europe as a family were invaluable.
“There is no way I could have learned the same thing here,” said Johnson. “I could put all of my time into focusing on a particular problem without my regular teaching and research routines.”
Now, a year after their departure, the family is adjusting to life back in central Illinois. And as happy as they are to be back home, their incredible experience is one they will miss.
“Grenoble had so much to offer and was a really amazing place to live and to explore,” said Johnson. “I would advise any student to take advantage of the opportunities to go abroad.”