NYU Shanghai Awards First PhD in Chemistry
After a journey spanning five years and three locations, California native Amiel Paz became NYU Shanghai’s first-ever PhD graduate in Chemistry in January 2023.
Paz was able to combine his interests in computer science and chemistry thanks to NYU Shanghai’s PhD program in Chemistry, a collaboration with the NYU Graduate School of Arts and Science and the NYU Department of Chemistry. “I was keen to apply software development to a chemically relevant problem,” said Paz. “I wanted to do really cool coding for science.”
In his dissertation, Paz used a mix of C++ and Python to develop new computational methodologies for understanding what happens at the microscopic level of light-initiated processes. In particular, Paz’s research focused on Photoinitiated Charge-Transfer (PCT) reactions — reactions between light and matter in which a transfer of electronic charges occurs. PCT reactions are important to processes as ordinary as photosynthesis, but they also impact UV radiation-induced DNA damage and the design of next-generation solar panels, among other things.
Paz’s research has wide-reaching implications. “A detailed atomistic description of PCT will provide molecular design rules for a multitude of technologies, including radiosensitizers for cancer treatment and multi-photon-stable fluorescent proteins for in-vivo imaging,” said Paz’s supervisor, NYU Shanghai Assistant Professor of Chemistry William Glover, who is associate director of the NYU-ECNU Center for Computational Chemistry at NYU Shanghai.
Paz first heard about NYU Shanghai’s PhD program in Chemistry while working toward his bachelor’s degree in chemistry and bioengineering at Stanford University. After coming across Glover’s research, he brought up the possibility of going to Shanghai to Todd Martínez, one of his professors. Martínez had worked with Glover in the past and encouraged Paz to pursue the opportunity — so long as he was willing to make the leap to Shanghai.
“I was a little hesitant at first,” said Paz. “But I decided to go for it. I thought it would be a unique experience to do a four-year study abroad for my PhD.”
The collaboration between Paz and Glover proved to be a fruitful one. Paz remarked that Glover’s supervision instilled in him the value of precision and curiosity in science. “If it wasn’t for Professor Glover’s critical eye, or his very cautious and careful approach to science, I wouldn’t be in the field that I am today,” said Paz.
Glover noted that Paz has made a valuable addition to his research team. “Amiel is intellectually gifted, friendly, hardworking, persistent, and never afraid to challenge ideas — a real pleasure to work with,” he said. “He also has a genuine collaborative spirit, and will always find the time to assist other group members.”
The pair navigated through several location changes throughout Paz’s time in the program. After a year at NYU’s New York campus, Paz then alternated between Shanghai and California during the pandemic. Paz and Glover coordinated calls between team members across the globe. “We were all awake at different times of the day,” Paz recalled. “We all had to find a way to get that overlapping time for a Zoom call.”
Despite these complications, Paz was able to achieve much in the program. He published three first-author papers in leading journals and gave several presentations — sometimes virtually — at major conferences. In 2020, he won a prize for Outstanding Graduate Lightning Talk at the Virtual Conference on Theoretical Chemistry.
“Amiel is a rising star who has the potential to be a world-leading theoretical chemist, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had him as my student,” said Glover.
Paz is currently back at Stanford working with Professor Todd Martínez as a postdoctoral scholar. He intends to continue his research on PCT and become a professor.