Doug Allan: A Career of Continuous Learning

Research Fellow Doug Allan has Devoted Nearly 40 Years to “Understanding Nature’s Hidden Secrets”

Doug Allan was a graduate student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he was frustrated.

It was 1982, and he was studying electronic structure methods, density functional theory, and subjects related to quantum mechanics. He loved it. But he worried that his technical papers would only be read by other theorists and not have practical impact.

Doug wanted to find an area of work with practical significance. He began to lean toward a career using his physics training in industry. “I thought I'd go to industry for a couple of years and see how that worked, and then I'd follow the conventional path of becoming a professor somewhere,” Doug said. “I wanted to have some exposure to industry and the practical applications of math and physics.”

Two years later, Doug was doing post-doctorate work at the University of Pennsylvania – and Corning contacted him. Doug knew nothing about the company, other than it was a name on the back of dishes. 

He had the chance to interview for a position at Corning working in electronic structure methods. 

“I didn’t think they would hire me,” Doug said, “so I treated it like a practice interview, thinking that I would have to interview at a lot of places to actually get a job.” 

Doug may not have been confident going in, but his relaxed and level-headed attitude allowed him to connect with his interviewers. Ultimately, the job was his.

Doug originally intended to stay with Corning for only a few years to experience the practical applications of equations and models. Nearly four decades later, he is a leader in the research community, known for always learning, adapting his skills, and collaborating with colleagues as they pursue answers to scientific questions together. 

He has also reached one of the highest levels of distinction in the technical organization, becoming a Senior Research Associate in 2002 and a Research Fellow in 2013.

Problem-solving begins with collaboration and learning

In the early stage of his career, Doug focused on developing new methods for calculating the electronic structure of materials. Corning commercialized the software he developed for this application, signaling a breakthrough in the way scientists predict electronic wavefunctions in solids. Soon after this success, Doug was asked to diversify and apply his skills to a greater variety of projects.

“I was stepping outside of my comfort zone, but I was encouraged by many strong teams,” Doug said. “I wound up discovering a lot about myself as I began to build upon my physics training and math skills.”

Doug quickly discovered that he enjoyed making mathematical models for different Corning projects.

“I could look at the problem and understand what was going on, and then I could suggest different kinds of models,” Doug said. “It's fun to help other people solve their problems, to get criticism from people and to try to improve my own techniques and understanding.”

In working with different groups over many decades, Doug has studied the science of glass viscosity, shrinkage, relaxation, and stress profiles while working on multiple projects. The breadth of his research has made accurate and practical models.

And insights derived from his models have helped set the direction for new glass compositions and have confirmed the utility of glass in applications ranging from high performance displays to Corning® Gorilla® Glass.

Physics, a Strong Foundation

Doug believes the goal of a trained physicist is to be a generalist. Physics is meant to be a foundational background upon which other knowledge can take root and be applied in different ways.

After years at Corning, he has come to better understand this definition of applied physics. “I've learned a little bit about so many things that I can make connections and tie things together.”

Doug said that Corning’s collaborative culture promotes conversation, allowing him to explore new interests while meeting and learning from different people.

“It’s so easy to have conversations across departments, and even across the world,” Doug said. “If someone brings me a question, it doesn’t matter which group or division they belong to.”

“I've really loved learning alongside people who are trying to solve a problem,” Doug added. “I like working together, like detectives looking at clues, to understand nature’s hidden secrets. As scientists, we always want to dig deeper to find explanations that are consistent with what we observe.” 

At age 67, Doug has no intention of retiring from Corning anytime soon. 

“I still feel like there's so much to do, and I don't want to walk away from the great questions that I'm pursuing with my amazing colleagues at Corning.”

Outside of Work

In his time at Corning, Doug has been able to effectively balance his work and home life. Outside of Corning he is involved with 171 Cedar Arts Center in Corning, where he and his wife Carol taught swing and ballroom dance, including performance classes, for 30 years, retiring from this activity in 2018. Doug also participates in the annual Ozer Story Ballet performance sponsored by 171.

In recent years, Doug and his wife have dedicated more of their time to visiting and vacationing with their children and extended family, including trips to the seashore and to Disneyworld.