Pushing the Frontier of Quantum Chemistry
Ethan French '23
“My mentor pushes me to my limits in a good way.”
Ethan French, of Brookline, Mass., transferred to UMass Amherst in his sophomore year when all his classes were online and found a remote research position in a computational chemistry lab, a new area for him. At first he felt as if he was “being thrown into the deep end” and was unsure if I he had made the right decision.
He soon discovered he had. In the lab of Assistant Professor of Chemistry Zhou Lin, which focuses on the development and application of fragment-based quantum chemistry techniques, French says he “fell more in love with chemistry as I was exposed to a part of it that I didn’t know existed.”
Lin praises French’s impressive progress. “He has a unique dual background in chemistry and programming, allowing him to appreciate problems in chemistry and to program theory into codes,” she says. “His projects push the frontier of quantum chemistry by accelerating existing approaches without compromising accuracy.”
Research has also given me a chance to focus on an area of chemistry that I can now see as being a part of my career.
French’s current research involves the application of machine learning to chemistry. Most recently, he used machine learning to predict quantum mechanical properties of molecules. These calculations are extremely important for computational materials and drug screening, among other things, he explains. However, they are costly and time consuming; some calculations require multiple days. French helped successfully reduce the process from approximately 12 hours to about 90 seconds.
As a result of his work in Lin’s lab, French was the second author on a paper published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters. Lin expects that his ongoing work will result in at least two more publications. French also received the Department of Chemistry’s 2021 Uche Anyanwu Memorial Award at the annual Undergraduate Research Poster Session.
On weekends, French puts in 24-hour shifts as an EMT at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, using careful planning to balance that work with his academics and research. As a hard-working and highly motivated student, French values his mentor’s advocacy. For example, he says, “Professor Lin often send emails to alert us to opportunities and encourage us to pursue them.” He believes his work in Lin’s lab has kept him “constantly curious.”
“There is always more to know,” he says. “Research has also given me a chance to focus on an area of chemistry that I can now see as being a part of my career.”