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Department of Chemistry
Message from the Department Head
bevilacqua

Welcome to the Department of Chemistry at Penn State!

Our department offers a rich variety of opportunities and resources. Since the heart of every department is its students, let’s begin by exploring our graduate and undergraduate programs.

Our graduate program provides opportunities to students in a wide array of chemical disciplines including analytical, biological, environmental, inorganic, materials, organic, physical, and theoretical chemistry. Graduate students have the freedom to personalize their courses and research projects. Moreover, we encourage graduate students to rotate in several different labs and we provide an opportunity to come to the department the summer before classes begin. Our graduate students have an active Chemistry Graduate Student Association and also have many opportunities for professional development, including teaching, communication, networking, outreach, and participation in regional, national, and international meetings. They are also part of departmental committees such as safety, seminars, and climate and diversity. These activities, together with research, make our students competitive for many career paths that include academia, industry, government, and national laboratories, among others.

Our undergraduate program offers an innovative curriculum that provides students with outstanding training for a variety of career paths including careers in the chemical industry, academia, medicine, education, and government, as well as other fields. We offer customized academic planning, advising, and research opportunities. The latter is especially important; students have the chance to work with faculty on cutting edge problems and gain skills that transfer to professional development, as well as co-author papers with faculty. A wide variety of scholarships, co-ops, and internships are also available. 

Our large and diverse faculty are involved in world-class research, are leaders in their fields, and have won numerous awards for their scientific contributions. We explore topics that range from climate change to DNA repair to new materials for alternative energy. Faculty are funded by the NIH, NSF, DOE, NASA, Army, and many other agencies. In addition, many of our faculty members have received prestigious awards including the PECASE, Humboldt Prize, NIH MIRA, NSF CAREER, and Packard Fellowship, among others. Several of our faculty members have been elected as fellows and members of prestigious academies and societies, including the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the American Association of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Our faculty also serve as journal editors, meeting organizers, and are involved in outreach initiatives in the community. The faculty are also engaged in outstanding teaching efforts to bring innovative teaching methods to the classroom, including active learning and flipped classrooms. Many of the faculty have participated in workshops to learn new and innovative teaching methods. 

We are also fortunate in the department to have an outstanding staff. Our talented staff members provide assistance to the students and faculty in areas of undergraduate teaching, graduate student recruiting, postdoctoral appointments, faculty recruiting, budgeting, and so much more. 

We welcome you to our website and invite you to explore these and many other aspects of our department. Please look at the news and events pages to see the latest stories and opportunities. I think you will find the Department of Chemistry at Penn State to be an exceptionally exciting, welcoming, and inclusive  place and we hope that you can visit and explore the many opportunities here.

With very best wishes,

Phil Bevilacqua

Head, Department of Chemistry

Email: pcb5@psu.edu

Phone: 814-863-3812

From the Department Head

Dear Chemistry Colleagues,

It is the start of a new year, indeed a new decade.  I get reflective this time of year. I pause to think about what I’ve done (and not done) and about what I value.  During the first group meeting of the year, I give what I call the “State of the Group” address. I go over the obvious: papers, grants, teaching, travel, change in personnel and the like.  But this year, I went back—way, way back—and looked at the students who went through my lab over the last decade. Sixteen students earned their PhD in the Bevilacqua Lab during this time. They’ve gone on to positions in academia, industry, and government.  And, as I thought about this, I realized not only how proud I am of what we achieved together, but how fond I am of them. I realized that what is of real value in my job as a faculty member is my students. When my head gets crowded with too many thoughts and I feel I have too much to do, I escape to my group.  A few hours in the lab, or having lunch with my students, clears my head and reminds me of why I took this job.  

When I was in high school, I played on the golf team, and we had what we called our “swing thought”—the one thing to think of when you stand over the ball and get ready to hit it.  Well, my swing thought as a faculty member is to take care of my students. If they are doing well and succeeding, then I’m doing well and succeeding. If they are writing impactful papers, then I’m writing impactful papers.  If they are developing as individuals, then I am growing myself.  

Now that I am department head, the department is my other group and I want to see this group thrive too.  This includes our graduate students, postdocs, undergraduates, and our staff. I think in the end, when we step away from our jobs, we will remember the impact we’ve had on other people.  So this year, let’s make a little extra time for our research groups, for our students in the classroom, and for our staff. I found this Penn State article about kindness in the work environment quite interesting, “A little kindness goes a long way for worker performance and health.”  The examples we set, the assistance we give, and the inspiration we provide will be the greatest gifts any of us can give in the new year and the new decade.

With Best Wishes,
Phil

Dear Chemistry Colleagues,

Since a very young age, I’ve been interested in creativity.  When I was a kid, I listened to music all the time, and over the years I’ve accumulated quite a record and CD collection.  I love going to art museums when I travel, and I’ve always enjoyed reading poetry and good books. But more than any one piece of music, art, or writing, I’ve been fascinated with the creative process.  

When I began to pursue science in earnest—probably in my first year or two of graduate school—I didn’t understand that scientists could themselves be creative, let alone that I could be creative.  No one seemed to talk about creativity, and, frankly, not many of us do today.  When I think about this, I’m reminded of Einstein’s quote on creativity, “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”  It’s probably not for me to argue with a towering genius, but I flat out disagree with Professor Einstein on this one.   

I find creativity in the oddest of places—watching a movie, going for a run, talking science with a student, reading a review article, or writing a paper or a grant proposal.  But I never know when a new idea will come. In fact, if you put me on the spot and said “Come up with a good idea now!” I would likely freeze up and fail.  I’m also painfully aware that most of my ideas are wrong.  Years ago, Dudley Herschbach—the Nobel Laureate Chemist from Harvard—came to Penn State and gave the education seminar.  I remember him saying that what he loved about research is that you could be wrong 95% of the time and still be a success.  That resonated with me; and, I suppose, that’s why I never became a physician.

My PhD advisor Doug Turner used to say, “Knowledge is like a tunnel—it’s easy to get to the end but it’s hard to make it longer.” Thirty years later, I can testify that Doug was absolutely right, and many publications later I can also state that the process of creating new knowledge hasn’t gotten any easier.  I have a bootleg collection from Bob Dylan’s classic album Blood on the Tracks.  It is fascinating to listen to the 10 takes of "Tangled up in Blue" (OK I’m a little bit obsessive) because you see that even for a musical genius, the creative process is an ugly one.  There are less than stellar versions, early lyrics don’t work, and there are halting starts and stops. Writing a paper in my lab is a lot like this.  It’s a disorienting process, one where we are never quite sure what the final product will look like. James Taylor said this about songwriting, “It’s a thrill and a source of deep frustration.”  Creating new knowledge is the same.  So, to the graduate students, remember that creating new knowledge, the ultimate goal of your PhD, is not easy, it’s often not pretty, and it can be deeply frustrating.  But for those times when it all comes together, it really is the best of feelings.  

This month we celebrate creative contributions of faculty, staff, and students.  I admire all that they have achieved and feel very fortunate to be part of such a strong and creative department. 

Best Wishes,

Phil