Luigi Morelli Fund supports 2020 honoree, Sree Kankanala

Physics student Sree Kankanala came to the United States in September 2019 from her home in India. She spent the next four months longing to go home.  Even for a bright, curious and friendly graduate student, it’s hard to be so far away from friends and family, and in a new country for the very first time.  Sree had been passionate about applying to schools and she’d never had any doubt about her chosen field of Physics.  But, making new friends and adjusting to the New England climate would make for a rocky beginning at Northeastern.

Everything changed in January 2020.  Sree had seen Professor Greg Fiete’s research presented in October of 2019 and her interest was piqued.  When she had the opportunity to meet him in January, she did not hesitate to let him know she hoped to work with him and his Condensed Matter Theory research group.

When she first joined the group in Spring 2020, Sree says she “felt like a toddler taking their first steps”, but mentorship from Dr. Fiete and the team helped her to get comfortable quickly and build her confidence. Before she knew it, she was not only immersed in the excitement of the research, but she had found the friends and sense of belonging that she had been seeking since she first arrived in the Fall.

Sree was chosen by the Department of Physics as the recipient of the 2020 Morelli Fund Award.  The Fund, named for COS Alum Luigi Morelli, class of 1972, provides summer research awards to graduate students who will be working full-time for a two-month summer term in the lab of a full-time College of Science faculty member. The fund may also be used to provide stipends to graduate students preparing to write their dissertations, or to provide them support for expenses such as conference participation, travel, or research overhead.

“I didn’t expect to be recognized in this way, and it really boosted my confidence and helped me to see myself as a leader,” says Sree. “I was able to meet Dr. Morelli in August, and he told me that ‘someone did that for me and I wanted to give back’ and I hope that someday I can do that for someone too.”

The award, established in 2019, supported Sree’s Summer II semester work on a theoretical project investigating correlated materials out-of-equilibrium in Dr Fiete’s lab.  In particular, Sree studied how laser driven phonon modes can influence the topological and magnetic properties of a material.  The work involved a symmetry analysis of crystal properties, as well as the application of model Hamiltonian approaches to investigate the influence of electron-phonon coupling.

“I find Physics surprising and breathtaking every day,” says Sree.  “But, this experience really ignited my curiosity and helped me to find my place in the research, where I could contribute.”

Dr. Luigi Morell is a condensed matter physicist who earned his PhD in Physics from Northeastern in 1972. He completed his post-doctural work at Georgetown and then was tenure track faculty there for 14 years, becoming an Associate Professor. He left to pursue a position with Fairchild Aerospace where he worked for 7 years on various satellites and shuttle missions. Luigi missed teaching, so moved on to a role as Professor of Physics at UC Colorado Springs where he and his wife, Anna, still reside.

The parents to two grown children who live on the east coast, Luigi and Anna collect Native American art which they plan to donate to the Crazyhorse Museum posthumously. Luigi looks back fondly on his days at Northeastern, where he attended the dedication of Dana Hall along with noted Nobel physicists. In fact, while at Northeastern, he constructed a shielded room in Dana Hall that is still in use today and it was here he recorded the lowest voltage ever measured.

The College is grateful for Luigi and Anna Morelli’s generosity and passion for science education at Northeastern.

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