Welcome one of our newest faculty members, Dr. Alexander Sokolov, to the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry! He joins our department after receiving his Ph. D. in Chemistry from the University of Georgia and Postdoctoral work at both Princeton University and Cal Tech. His research aims to develop new theoretical methods for the simulations of light-induced and non-equilibrium processes in chemical systems with complex electronic structure.
Let’s get to know Dr. Sokolov a little better…
Q: What attracted you to Ohio State/Columbus?
There are many great things about OSU. Scientifically, I was well aware of the Ohio State position as the world-class research institution in both chemistry and physics. One of the first things that comes to my mind when I think about research at OSU is the work by Kenneth Wilson who won the Nobel prize in physics for his development of the renormalization group methods. Although these methods originated in physics, they are now increasingly used to solve some of the most complicated problems in quantum chemistry. In the Chemistry and Biochemistry department, research groups are working in almost every subfield of experimental and theoretical chemistry one could only imagine. There is a long history of quantum chemistry in the department that dates back to the early work by Isaiah Shavitt and Russell Pitzer who were among the pioneers in the field. I was also very impressed by the resources available at the university and how beautiful the Ohio State campus is. But probably one of the most pleasant experiences is meeting people at OSU. Everyone is very nice and looks very happy 🙂
Q: Explain your research and what it means to you:
My research is in the field of quantum chemistry, a branch of theoretical chemistry that uses quantum mechanics to study molecules and materials. Quantum mechanics can be used to simulate chemistry: predict the structure and properties of molecules, study the mechanisms of chemical reactions or how molecules react with light. This requires finding accurate approximations to the fundamental quantum mechanical equations that describe how molecules behave in real matter and developing efficient algorithms to solve these equations on the computer. In my research, I am interested in problems that involve complex chemistry, such as understanding how bioactive metal complexes transform when irradiated with light, how photocatalysts initiate chemical reactions under very mild reaction conditions, or how electrons “flow” through a molecule when an electric field is applied. These problems are very challenging for the existing quantum chemical methods and require significant advances in theory. Being able to solve some of these challenges is very exciting and is the constant source of motivation for me every day.
Q: What are your goals here at Ohio State?
One of my main goals at OSU is to become a valuable addition to the department as a researcher, a teacher, a mentor, and a colleague. In my research, my goal is to develop new theoretical tools that significantly expand the range of problems we can solve with quantum mechanical simulations. Some of these new problems I have already mentioned: from understanding the photochemistry of molecules with complex electronic properties to investigating the processes in chemical systems driven out of equilibrium. As a mentor, I would like to create a research environment for my students that will allow them to grow both professionally and personally, so they can be well prepared for their future careers.
Q: What led you to love chemistry?
When I was a child, I was struck by the realization that everything around us consists of just a handful of building blocks that we call atoms. All of the complexity and all of the beauty of the world that surrounds us and is inside of us is just a combination of a few dozen of elements bound together with even a smaller number of elementary particles. This realization that the world has a structure and this structure can be understood and manipulated led to my fascination of chemistry.
Q: Favorite class to teach:
Of course, I enjoy to teach classes on quantum chemistry and molecular electronic structure, a subject that is very close to my heart, but the other subjects that I would love to teach are: group theory, molecular spectroscopy, inorganic and coordination chemistry, photochemistry.
Q: Who do you most admire and why?
People that make an impact on lives of other people through their ideas, hard work, and dedication. There are many examples, I wouldn’t call specific names. From founders of big companies that transform the way we live, scientists with a big picture in mind that drive entire scientific fields forward to people who fearlessly work on issues in our society, demand changes and propose solutions.
Q: Piece of advice for our students:
First, never give up. There are times when things move along and there are times when everything stops. Think about the big picture and don’t be afraid to make steps in the unknown territory. Second, explore all opportunities. Before making an important decision in your life, look around. It may well be that the opportunity you are looking for is just around the corner.
Q: If you weren’t a scientist what would you be and why?
This is a tough question, because I can hardly imagine my life without science. But, looking back at my childhood, there was a time when I was interested in biology and wanted to become a doctor. That interest eventually led me to chemistry.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time?
Most of all, I enjoy spending time with my family. I have two beautiful children and I learn a great deal from interacting with them every day. I also enjoy spending time outdoors (particularly, running and hiking) and look forward to exploring Columbus and the nearby areas.
Q: Random fact about yourself:
The name of my hometown (Snezhinsk) can be translated from Russian as “Snow city”. As the name suggests, it does get lots of snow during the winter 🙂 Also, my last name is the derivative of the Russian word “sokol”, which translates in English as falcon.