PhD candidate, University of Pennsylvania
Master of Chemical Sciences, University of Pennsylvania ’19
Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Zhejiang University ’17
As Zhenyao Fang completed his undergraduate degree in chemistry, he discovered he was more interested in computational methods than laboratory bench work. “I chose Penn’s Master of Chemical Sciences program in order to have more opportunities to get familiar with different kinds of areas—not only those in chemistry, but also physics and mathematics,” he recalls. While taking courses in condensed-matter physics from the physics department as well as quantum mechanics and core chemistry courses, Zhenyao joined an on-campus lab that researches theoretical and computational approaches to complex systems. For a capstone project, he is investigating the topological properties of a class of widely used semiconductors using the lab’s techniques.
Working in the theoretical chemistry lab put Zhenyao in touch with both chemistry and physics research methods, which helped him see the connections between theory and lab experiments. “This is a very good opportunity for me to get in contact with people with different perspectives. Physics professors usually think of problems in a very theoretical way, but my professors in chemistry focus more on turning these incredible ideas into reality,” he explains. “It’s our job to overcome these barriers.”
In addition to the insight and experience he has gained from lab work, Zhenyao appreciates the wealth of resources available to master’s students, such as the chemistry library. “The pro-seminar course taught us how to search for literature and find the important properties of materials through the library resources. There are loads of databases,” he says. To future students of chemistry, he suggests an open mind. “Try different areas of knowledge,” he advises, “and try as many opportunities as you can. Only after experiencing different lifestyles can you finally find your own way.”