Meet CTC: Yinan Shu

Yinan Shu lab

July 14, 2020 -- Yinan Shu joined the Truhlar group as a postdoctoral researcher in 2016. Yinan was born in Hangzhou, which is the capital of the Zhejiang Province in China. He completed his undergraduate study at Wuhan University, and later received his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Michigan State University. 

Yinan is researching the behaviors of molecules and materials upon excitation. In order to understand the behaviors, “we need more accurate and efficient electronic structure theories, better nonadiabatic dynamics algorithms, and effective material design strategies.” Many real-world processes are related to molecule excitations, including photovoltaics, light-emitting diodes, and photocatalysis. “When we are facing the potential global warming crisis (although the weather is not exactly the climate, places in the arctic circle reached 38°C on June 20, 2020), understanding how to convert solar energy into electricity is especially important.”

A computational chemist’s ultimate goal is to solve the Schrödinger equation for complex systems. This is a difficult task using a pencil and paper, so computers are used instead. “We are using and developing approximations, implementing these approximations into computer programs, and obtaining solutions to Schrödinger equations by large-scale computations.”

Outside of research, Yinan enjoys playing computer games, reading, and working out. He also enjoys listening to jazz, hip hop, and pop music.

Yinan is the recent recipient of the 2020 Young Investigator Award from the Physical Chemistry (PHYS) Division of the American Chemical Society (ACS). He is invited to speak about his research at the virtual Fall 2020 National ACS meeting in San Francisco, CA in August. He also recently received the Robin Hochstrasser Young Investigator Award.

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

My advisor, Prof. Don Truhlar, is prestigious in the computational/theoretical chemistry field. He is famous for many works, including the scattering theory, transition state theory, nonadiabatic processes, solvation models, electronic structure theory, and density functional theory. Working with him is a great opportunity for me to broaden and deepen my experiences and views. 

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

I’ve been in the Midwest for almost nine years now. Many people would say the winter here is a disaster, but summer is really great, and fall is beautiful. The Twin Cities combine the advantages of small-town and metro, and it is not as crowded as Chicago or New York City. There are still so many fun things to do. And, most importantly, people are “Minnesota nice.” 

Yinan traveling

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

Chemistry is a very broad field. People outside of the field think chemistry is focused on synthetic organic chemistry. To me, synthetic organic chemistry refers to the synthesis of large natural products, as well as developing synthesis methodologies. However, chemists actually work in many different scientific areas, ranging from biology to physics, to geology, to computer science, and almost everything in between. The number of potential possibilities in chemistry is the most appealing part of the field.

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

The most exciting part of doing research in computational chemistry is that you can always learn new things, almost every day. I joined the computational/theoretical chemistry field in 2011 during graduate school at Michigan State University. The learning curve is exponential, which makes it challenging, but I enjoy it very much. 

What are you most proud of about your academic career so far, and what’s one thing you’d like to achieve in the future?

As a postdoc, I have many chances to collaborate with my fellow group members, especially with the younger graduate students. I am very happy and proud that I am able to pass my experience and knowledge to the younger students. I’m also proud of my ability to work on several diverse research projects. In the future, I’d like to become a professor, continue working on exciting research, and pass my knowledge to younger generations of scientists.

What drives you to be a better scientist?

The desire to keep learning and do research that interests me. For me, the most appealing part of doing research, especially in theoretical chemistry, is that you have the opportunity to learn a lot. I quickly find a project to be boring if I can’t absorb enough new knowledge from it. I’m always excited to dive into different topics in theoretical chemistry, pushing myself to learn more.

What advice do you have for aspiring scientists?

Research is always exploratory. That being said, you will be frustrated about your results sometimes, but that never means that you’ve failed. I have many dead projects, but they will be reborn at some point in the future. Years later, you may find some of them to be very stimulating.