Hsing-Ta (Theta) Chen, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, majored in mathematics and physics prior to pursuing a doctorate in chemical physics. While this may seem to be an unexpected pathway for a chemistry professor, having a strong background in mathematics and physics prepared him for success in his field.
“The idea of the field of chemical physics is we are interested in chemistry problems but our approach is using a lot of physical tools, mathematical tools, and even computational tools to tackle those chemistry problems,” he said.
Chen’s current research uses quantum mechanics to think about light interacting with chemical systems. The issue in aiming to do so in a chemistry problem, given the numerous factors such as environment and temperature that interact with the system, is the lack of tools available to deal with light-matter interaction at the quantum level.
“Our approach is either develop better computational algorithms to deal with this large system or try to characterize the system into a simple model that captures the main characters of the system,” Chen explained.
Chen is excited to be doing his research at the University of Notre Dame and finds Notre Dame’s emphasis on collaboration to be unique. His office is located next to those of professors of mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and chemistry. Chen finds that this physical proximity greatly aids in fostering a culture of collaboration and support.
“You can just talk to the person next to you and see what they are up to and what you can do together,” he remarked.
In addition to the spirit of collaboration, a prominent factor that drew Chen to the University was the positive remarks he heard regarding Notre Dame undergraduates. He is teaching a graduate-level course this semester, but he looks forward to teaching an undergraduate course next semester and incorporating a couple of undergraduate students into his research lab.
In his spare time, Chen enjoys experimenting with latte art. It is a skill that he picked up while working part-time in a coffee shop during college, and he enjoys the art form after a long day of dealing with the theoretical.
“I am a theorist, so it is nice to be able to produce something by my hands,” he said. “I find coffee is a really good getaway.”