Meet CTC: Riddhish Pandharkar

Riddhish lab

November 19, 2019 -- Riddhish Pandharkar is a graduate student in the Cramer and Gagliardi groups. Riddhish is from Pune, India, and he received undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering and chemistry from BITS Pilani, which is in neighboring state Goa. Riddhish spent the last year of his undergraduate studies at Freie Universitat Berlin (FUB) for his master’s thesis. He worked in computational chemistry labs at both BITS and FUB. 

Riddhish is currently working on the catalysis of hydrocarbons using the High Performance Computing resources of the Minnesota Supercomputing Institute. This project is a collaborative effort between experimentalists and theorists; the theorists use software to model the reactions the experimentalists perform. The groups then work together to come up with ways to improve the reactions. For example, they find ways to lower the amount of energy used in the reaction to make it more sustainable. 

In his free time, Riddhish enjoys reading about history. His favorite areas are ancient Roman and contemporary Indian history.  He also likes watching stand-up comedy and playing soccer.


Why did you choose the University of Minnesota, and what led you to join your current research groups? 

The University of Minnesota was naturally an ideal choice for me because there are multiple strong and active groups working in my area of interest. The research within the Department of Chemistry has had a great impact on the theoretical and computational chemistry field. The Department also has strong links to other research institutions and industries. All of this gave me confidence that the training and exposure that I will receive here will facilitate my all-around development, enabling me to take up challenges from a wide spectrum. The University of Minnesota not only gives me a front row seat to witness the changes in the field, but also empowers me to contribute to this development.

How did you become interested in studying chemistry, and what gets you the most excited about your field?

I started my schooling wanting to focus more on engineering because I was more informed of the different possibilities in that field for research jobs. However, as I started taking courses, I realized that the chemistry done in research is very different than what I had learned in school. My classes were centered around knowing and memorizing things, rather than finding them out.

I also developed a keen interest in quantum chemistry, and started working in the lab of the professor who taught us the subject. The interest did not start with any intention of mastering the field or understanding the deep mechanics of the theory, but merely as a way to play with molecules. 

I was, and still am, fascinated by the fact that I could make a computer do things, such as find out at what frequency a particular carbon oxygen bond will vibrate. The computer is a huge and powerful addition in the toolkit of chemists. 


What do you enjoy most about your research? What has been your most interesting or surprising finding so far?

My favorite part of my research is the predictive power that it has. We can't model everything in theoretical chemistry, but in what we can, we know to a great degree what is going on. I spend relatively little time waiting for things to happen, repeating things, or setting up experiments. Instead, I spend most of my time thinking and investigating.

The most interesting finding we’ve had so far is the LASSCF method invented in the Gagliardi group. Instead of doing the calculation on the entire molecule, the LASSCF method takes a ‘one bite at a time’ approach, and then stitches the solution of the parts to get a good approximation of the full solution. This approach makes large calculations much more manageable.

What advice do you have for aspiring scientists?

There are hardly any scientists who at some point in the beginning of their career did not have doubts about their abilities. What carries you through is the will to do it, and not any abstract thing called 'intelligence'.

What is your favorite part about living in the Twin Cities?

The Twin Cities are relatively laid back and quiet. The University is close to downtown, where there are lots of sports events and concerts. The Twin Cities also has good public transport.