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Chemistry PhD Research Tracks

The department offers an Umbrella Program reflective of the depth and breadth of contemporary research undertaken within Chemistry and Biochemistry. The umbrella program encompasses seven different research tracks from which students can choose. The research tracks are overlapping in terms of course work and research advisors.

Analytical and Atmospheric Chemistry

This track draws on strong departmental expertise in both theoretical and experimental physical and analytical chemistry, with specific application to atmospheric chemistry. The varied use of analytical and computational techniques, ranging from molecular dynamics simulations to mass spectrometric analytical methods, results in collaborative efforts with other tracks within the department and beyond. The NSF sponsored Chemical Center for Innovation, Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment, provides unparalleled research and teaching opportunities for graduate students. 

Chemical Biology

This track draws on exciting recent strengths in the department aimed at using molecular techniques to study or to create new function in biological systems. This highly interdisciplinary field includes faculty from organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry and many other departmental tracks, and often involves collaborations with faculty in the departments of Biology and Bioengineering, as well as within the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the School of Medicine.

Inorganic Chemistry

This track draws on diverse strengths in many areas of Inorganic Chemistry including: nano-materials synthesis and characterization, energy conversion and storage, organometallic synthesis, catalysis, bioinorganic chemistry and metalloprotein design, inorganic and inorganic-organic hybrid materials, structure determination, spectroscopy and sensor design. Groups in this track are highly multi-disciplinary and cross-listed with several other tracks in the department. They utilize several departmental and campus-wide analytical facilities for characterization and fabrication of materials including those at the Institute of Materials Discovery and Design ( and Nano3 ( Several members of the inorganic track are founding participants in the recently formed UCSD Materials Research Science and Engineering Center ( supported by the National Science Foundation.

Materials Chemistry

The Materials Chemistry track research is highly interdisciplinary. This track is at the interface of designing and preparing advanced materials, and characterizing their unique physical and chemical properties. The students will develop knowledge of physical principles of materials, skills in modern synthetic technologies, proficiency with state-of-the-art characterization tools, and a broad background in applications of semiconductor, photonic, energy, and biomedical devices. Current research areas include (1) Inorganic, organic, polymer, and hybrid materials for novel electronic, magnetic, mechanical, chemical, and biological properties; (2) Cutting-edge techniques to characterize materials in energy, time, and spatial dimensions, from macroscopic ensembles to the single-atom level; (3) Design and fabrication of devices from the molecular level; (4) First-principles calculation and prediction of material properties; (5) Soft materials from biological molecules. Faculty and students in the Materials Chemistry Track may also benefit from association with the UC San Diego Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), a National Science Foundation funded center for interdisciplinary research in materials science and engineering. Many research programs within the Materials Chemistry track are synergistic with Inorganic, Organic, and Physical Chemistry tracks.

Organic Chemistry

This track represents a broad spectrum of traditional and emerging areas of chemistry involving the synthesis and study of small and large carbon-based molecules. The enormously diverse applications of artificial and natural organic compounds creates strong interdisciplinary efforts in organometallic, physical organic, materials, bioorganic, and natural products chemistry. Many research programs have significant overlap with Chemical Biology, Molecular Biochemistry and many other tracks, as well as efforts within the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

Physical Chemistry

This track draws on strong interplay and collaboration between theory and experiment in traditional and emerging areas of physical chemistry. More specifically, spectroscopy and microscopy techniques are developed and applied to elucidate molecular mechanisms ranging from macroscopic ensembles to single-atom level. Specific research topics cover (1) reaction kinetics and dynamics, materials, alternative energy and environmental science, photonics and polaritonics,  biophysical and biomedical research; (2) Computational methodologies are developed to address a broad range of problems related to protein folding and drug design. (3) Quantum and nonequilibrium statistical mechanics are developed and applied to model electron and energy transfer, biochemical reactions, aerosol chemistry, gas adsorption in porous nanomaterials and strong light-matter coupling systems. Many research programs have significant overlap with Materials, Analytical and Atmospheric Chemistry, and Chemical Biology tracks, and the Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics Program. 

Theoretical and Computational Chemistry

This track emphasizes the development of new theoretical methods and simulation approaches for application to current chemistry and biochemistry problems. Over the past decade, theoretical chemistry and computational chemistry have undergone a revolution triggered by the advent of new theories/algorithms and high-performance supercomputers, making possible the study of increasingly large and complex systems. Current research at UCSD covers a broad range of topics that include quantum-mechanical methodologies for energy and electron transport, non-equilibrium statistical mechanics, theoretical and computational approaches for biomolecular simulations, drug discovery, protein-protein interaction networks, carbon capture and hydrogen storage in porous materials, theoretical geochemistry, computational modeling of heterogeneous chemistry relevant to climate and the environment, electronic structure calculations of inorganic and organometallic complexes, and magnetic and transport properties of metal-organic frameworks.