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Ben Xinzi Zhang

Department: Chemistry
Faculty Adviser: Gregory D. Scholes
Year of Study: G5
Undergraduate School: William & Mary
Undergraduate Major: Chemistry

Personal Bio

I’m originally from Yangzhou, China, but have lived in the US for 8 years. I was fortunate enough to have a thoughtful and caring advisor in college who guided me through some exciting first steps in laboratory research. Those baby steps—trudging through the first scientific paper, debugging the first data analysis code, jamming together a physical equation with my own mystery variables, and breaking my first (fancy!) piece of equipment—eventually led me to PhD studies at Princeton. Here, I’ve not only enjoyed my own research and readings, but also discovered writing about science and teaching aspiring students as rewarding adventures that never tire me. I love Princeton’s serenity, both in the libraries and in its surrounding woods, creeks, and meadows. I’m also a huge fan of the environment and a wanna-be earth scientist, having completely all but one requirement in college for a geology major. So it would fill my soul to venture into river valleys and boulder-filled hills, or comb through some hydrographs, with my mentee.

Fun Fact

I can’t resist ancient stuff. It’s in my genes.

Research Pitch

In the broadest sense, I study the interactions between light and matter. More precisely, my research is squarely situated in the discipline of molecular spectroscopy, employing both experimental methods and theories ranging from nonlinear optics to quantum dynamics. Forget about cool lasers, mirrors, and prisms (though I’ve spent plenty of time with all of them), the strongest motive behind my research is a desire to understand how the inexhaustible energy of the sun has driven life on earth for billions of years and, more urgently, how we can better harness its power to save our species from imminent demise. Every day, I hope to comprehend just a little bit more about the elegant pathways and mechanisms that allow plants to efficiently use sunlight, and I dream about discovering or synthesizing the perfect material to convert light into electricity. The scholarly gaps I’m attempting to fill are both microscopic and ultrafast—technically that’s on the order of 1/10^15 ~ 1/10^9 of a second. I want to know what happens when light excites molecules that contain a vast number of electrons and atoms—organic molecules, solar-cell materials, novel carbon networks—and how detailed changes triggered by that excitation create macroscopic, detectable events, such as a chemical reaction or a electrical current. Those changes often lie on the so-called quantum–classical boundary, where canonical methods in both fields of physics fall short and new ways of thinking may emerge to help chemists grasp, intuit, and predict these effects. I operate laser spectroscopy instruments but I spend most of my time these days analyzing data, reading (you’d always be surprised how extensively scientists and philosophers in the past have pondered questions we thought were new), and writing.

Plans for Summer 2022

Not available to participate in Summer ReMatch+ program.

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