The undergraduate and graduate courses I teach focus on one central question: Why do only certain things in our world happen spontaneously? Or, put differently, Why does time appear to have an arrow? Although the answer is easy to state – spontaneous processes that move forward in time increase the entropy of the universe (the Second Law of Thermodynamics) – the reasons behind and the implications of that answer take us back to the very foundation of our empirical understanding of the world and forward to the edges of our current scientific knowledge. In my courses, I work to equip students with tools to understand entropy, while enabling them to reason through spontaneous processes as simple as a cup of coffee cooling to those as complex as order emerging from chaos. Once the concept of entropy is understood, its clarity and beauty are arresting. I am tremendously excited to teach first year students in my Engagement course about the centrality, simplicity, power, beauty, and tragedy of entropy. In doing so, we will engage in deep, fundamental questions about life in this physical world of ours – perhaps most importantly: how do we respond creatively, both individually and collectively, to the empirical fact that all things decay?
In my research, I employ theoretical and computational tools to investigate how small things assemble into larger things – ranging from the organization of monomeric units into polymers to the organization of hierarchically-ordered nanoparticles and biomaterials. Specifically, I am interested in the interplay between self-organization and environmental complexities, such as spatial gradients, temporal oscillations, and ongoing chemical reactions.
I have been an Assistant Professor in the Chemistry Department at the University of Virginia since 2014. From 2017-2019, I served on the General Education Assessment Committee, which was tasked with evaluating UVA’s new College Curriculum. During my time at UVA, I have won both the Cory Family and Alumni Board of Trustees Teaching Awards. In addition, I recently received a 2019 NSF CAREER Award and a 2020 Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement.