Q&A with graduate student Jason Wu

Head shot of Jason Wu

Jason Wu is a graduate student from Newton, MA, pursuing his doctorate in the research groups of chemistry Prof. Nick Jackson and chemical and biomolecular engineering Prof. Charles Schroeder. He received a B.S. in chemistry and B.A. in computer science from Boston College, and in his first year as a graduate student at Illinois, he was selected a 2024 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

What does this NSF Fellowship mean to you?

I am honored to be selected as an NSF Fellow because it marks an important milestone in my journey to becoming the scientist I am today. When I first began my undergraduate research as a traditional synthetic organic chemist, I quickly realized that it was not the right area for me. Through networking with other chemists and exploring more about other areas of chemistry, my interest evolved as I learned about how Computer Science (another undergraduate study I pursued) was being integrated in the world of chemistry. Deciding to apply to graduate school as a physical chemistry student to explore my interdisciplinary interests was a risk due to the little experience I had in the area. However, I consider the NSF fellowship as a positive affirmation to the decision I have made in pursuing the novel research on the interface of chemistry and computer science.

Tell us about the interdisciplinary research you are involved in at Illinois.

Our broad research goal is to achieve the automated synthesis of sequence defined oligomers. Similar to how proteins and DNA can be synthesized iteratively, we aim to iteratively synthesize oligomers. This research involves the integration of various disciplines including, but not limited to, organic synthesis, computational chemistry, and materials science. More specifically, this research aims to develop novel organic photovoltaic materials for harvesting renewable energy.

How did you discover your passion for chemistry?

My passion in chemistry can be attributed to the key individuals who have guided my journey. This journey began with my mother, a chemist, and my father, a computer scientist, who instilled and encouraged my curiosity in science. This general interest formalized into chemistry in high school when I took AP chemistry with my all-time favorite teacher, Dave Bennett. I came into Boston College as a Chemistry major and was fortunate quickly be accepted into Professor Shih-Yuan Liu’s research group. Of course, there are countless others who have invested their time in me to cultivate and grow my interest in Chemistry so I have all of them to thank for discovering my passion for chemistry.

Why are you a member of the graduate student organization, the Younger Chemist Committee (YCC)?

YCC is important to me because it not only provides me with the opportunity to connect with others who have the same level of passion in chemistry, but also provides me the opportunity to do what so many others have done for me – cultivate others’ interest in chemistry.

What are your aspirations after your PhD?

My pursuit in a career in chemistry stems from my belief that chemistry can truly help improve the health and quality of life in our world. I aspire to work as a computational chemist in the pharmaceutical industry and hope that my growing expertise in both synthetic organic chemistry and machine learning can further contribute to this greater mission.

What has been the highlight of graduate school so far?

The highlight of graduate school so far has been having the opportunity to build new relationships with others interested in chemistry. From having lunch with the Jackson group, discussing research problems with my mentor, to hanging out with other first years, I am grateful to have found such a supportive community.

Favorite way to take a break?

Having board game or movie nights with the other first-year chemistry students I have become friends with.

Favorite hobbies or activities?

I enjoy exercising, specifically rock climbing, running, and golf. I also like trying new cooking and baking recipes.