|James R. Buchwald
I have known since the beginning of high school that I wanted to be a professor. Originally I intended to study computer science, but once I took a chemistry class during my sophomore year, I knew that I wanted my PhD in chemistry. Don’t get me wrong; I still love computer science. It’s just that one of those fields makes a safe hobby, and the other will end up burning down your house.
I found out about the Accelerated BS/PhD program at Accepted Student’s Day. I immediately made it my goal to join the program. I took as many advanced courses as I could including a 4000-level chemistry course about laser-based spectroscopy methods (a course which, in fact, sparked a strong interest in physical chemistry). At the end of the summer after my freshman year, I was invited to join the program.
The program has been a great experience for me. I joined a research group prior to entering the program, but I took advantage of the rotations during the spring semester to see how groups working in other fields of chemistry operated. I simultaneously worked semester-long rotations in two groups.
For one rotation, I visited Professor Curt Breneman’s research group and learned about computational chemistry. I got hands-on experience with the latest cutting edge chemistry software, including the ab initio quantum chemistry software Gaussian. I also helped design a user interface for a web-based chemistry tool that the group was developing.
My other rotation was in Professor Peter Dinolfo’s inorganic chemistry research group in which I had been working since September and ultimately ended up joining. My current research is focused on artificial photosynthesis. We are attempting to create novel transition metal complexes inspired by the Oxygen Evolving Complex of Photosystem II, which will split water molecules to give oxygen gas and protons. Coupled with a light-harvesting antenna and a hydrogen reduction catalyst, this research will hopefully one day provide us with the tools to produce renewable hydrogen gas from water and sunlight. My primary focus within this research is the synthesis of novel macrocyclic ligands which, when coordinated to the appropriate transition metals, will have water-oxidizing catalytic behavior.
My research and academics keep me very busy, but somehow I still have time for other activities. I was recently chosen to serve as a member of the Rensselaer Union Executive Board. I am also a member of the Game Development Club and the Rensselaer Chemistry Society. My hobbies include skiing, cooking, and programming computer games, and when I’m not busy with any of these activities, I’m usually hanging out with friends.