In his research lab, he is like a maestro in a white coat, cheerfully orchestrating more than a dozen undergraduate and graduate students as they work on their sometimes separate, sometimes related projects.
“When I was a kid, I liked playing with chemistry a lot, and once one experiment was done I needed to start another one. I knew I needed a job that would let me do different things and have a lot of fun. Being a scientist was the only job not boring to me,” he explained. Then he added, “I’m serious, I’m not fun.”
He gets a roar of laughter from his students in response. His energy is palpable and contagious.
“Dr. Fologea is very down-to-earth, hardworking and happy all the time, and I think that what makes this lab a ‘happy lab,’” said Nisha Shrestha, a Ph.D. student in the biomolecular sciences program.
“He is an excellent mentor. Though he is busy he always makes time for us, to explain the science and help us with the experiments. He always wants his students to be successful and help to fulfill their dreams.”
While Fologea is an accomplished physicist — he is widely published and has made more than 175 presentations internationally at physics, biophysics and biology conferences — inside his lab it really is all about his students. He can list each of their accomplishments, who has been published, who still needs to be.
“Doing research is just another approach to learning and I truly believe it improves retention. Not a single student in my lab has ever withdrawn from school. All of them have either went on to medical school or were accepted to outstanding graduate schools or got very good jobs,” he noted.
During summer months, his team includes high school students who get tutored in math or physics while they’re there. It was the prospect of combining research and teaching that brought him to the United States from Bucharest, Romania, after graduate school.
“It was the quality of research you can actually do here, and it was the capability to involve students, even undergrads in your research. Back in Romania, professors were not doing research at that time, only teaching a huge load. I begged them to let me do research. I was willing to pay them to let me do research. It was that important to me.”
He landed at Boise State in 2011, partly because the university had just started a Ph.D. program in biomolecular sciences and Fologea was intrigued by the idea of building something from the ground up. But he remembers being most impressed by the students he met.
“The students at Boise State are certainly quite equal to students I met at other universities with more of a research tradition, but in certain situations our students are way more motivated than these other students to succeed. One of the first students I worked with stopped me in the elevator and asked if we could do a project together. I didn’t have a lot of money at the time so all of my students volunteered. The experience meant something to them.”
A new grant is allowing him to involve more students in research and pay them for their time in the lab.
“The students are not working for me, the students are working with me. If I write a manuscript, I’m using their results and their work. I’m just guiding them. If you look at their achievements as scientists, it’s a tremendous help for me. I’m the first beneficiary of their research work. They’re my colleagues.”
Fologea and the Department of Physics have a goal of involving every student in research. His classes also offer a service-learning option, allowing his students to share their knowledge at Trail Wind Elementary School and the Village Charter School in Boise, and with refugees at the Caldwell community center. Fologea believes that research, teaching and service go hand-in-hand. And together, they provide students a full learning experience.
Dr. Fologea was given an entire interview to discuss his own personal achievements, but that didn’t stop him from giving all of the credit to his students.
Devon Richtsmeier, undergraduate, physics
“Dr. Fologea wants to help all his students succeed and excel in whatever endeavors they want to pursue. He works extremely hard and always seems to be busy, but is always willing to stop and talk or explain something if you have a problem.”
Philip Belzeski, undergraduate, physics with biophysics emphasis
“I fell in love with the community here almost immediately and in the physics department it seems like everyone cheers each other on as we collaborate and try to succeed together. Daniel is constantly giving so much time and individual attention to each one of his students that I have no idea how he can get so many things accomplished, but it’s a goal of mine to figure it out!”
Michael McHugh, undergraduate, anthropology and biomolecular sciences
“Dr. Fologea is a perfect analogy for Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle … one will never know his exact position on campus or velocity. He is so busy that he is constantly moving between his lab, his office, his classroom, etc. This experience has been amazing. I cannot express enough my gratitude for being able to work and learn in this lab.”
Gamid Abatchev, Ph.D. student, Biomolecular Sciences
“Apart from my awesome lab mates and Dr. Fologea himself, I really like the project I recently undertook which involves electrochemotherapy and liposomal drug delivery. The more we research cancer treatment, the sooner we will eliminate its awful presence in our society.”
Mark Smith, Ph.D. student, Biomolecular Sciences
“After retiring in 2009 as a (U.S. Air Force) colonel, I returned to the Boise area, and taught chemistry for a couple of years at CWI. When I learned that Boise State University was offering a Ph.D. in biomolecular science, I decided to use my GI Bill and enter that program.”
Sheenah Bryant, graduate student, Ph.D. biomolecular sciences
“I was awarded the NASA MUREP ASTAR fellowship. This is a very prestigious fully funded three-year fellowship given to only 13 graduate students nationally in 2015. I would not have earned this had it not been for Daniel’s encouragement, active mentoring and research excellence.”
Daniel Prather, undergraduate, physics
“My favorite part of working in Fologea lab is that everyone who works in there are extremely reliable and motivated. Dr. Fologea is an amazing professor to work with because he truly cares about undergraduates and graduate students in his lab.”
Christopher Thomas, undergraduate, physics with emphasis in biophysics and minor in applied math
“Although the lab produces very successful research, one doesn’t get the stressful feeling that the lab exists solely for this purpose. Rather, the lab is a place of learning where collaboration, mentoring, and mutual support are emphasized. I would describe Dr. Fologea, or Daniel as he prefers to be called, as the ideal mentor. Daniel’s patience, depth of knowledge, perpetual cheerfulness, and genuine love of science make it a pleasure working with him.”
Lizzie Leung, undergraduate, health science, biology minor
“I love the support each member of the lab provides each other; our lab is like one big family, dedicated to each other’s success. Dr. Fologea … is always happy, never complains and has a burning passion for science that rubs off onto each member of the lab. Hours upon hours of experiments have never been without excitement and joy in this lab.”