University News

University of New Haven Introduces New Master’s Degree in Chemistry

Incorporating guiding principles used by the National Science Foundation, the cutting-edge program integrates theoretical and experimental chemistry and a cross-disciplinary approach to enable students to develop cutting-edge solutions.

December 7, 2018

Chemistry
Students in chemistry lab

Today’s chemist has to be a nimble thinker, said Dequan Xiao, able to blend theoretical and computational work with experimental chemistry methods to solve all kinds of practical problems in chemistry.

So when the Tagliatela College of Engineering's chemistry program was shaping its new Master of Science program, “we knew we would take a cutting edge, integrative approach,” said Xiao, MS program coordinator and assistant professor of chemistry.

“This is a new frontier of chemistry research. It reflects the direction where the National Science Foundation is heading,” Xiao said. “It integrates theoretical and experimental approaches and it crosses disciplines to attack important problems. We will be one of very few chemistry programs around the country that have a curriculum designed using this approach. Others include top research universities such as Yale, MIT and UC Berkeley.”

“We are inviting experts across all areas of chemistry research, speakers from the region and, eventually, from across the country, so our students will constantly be exposed to state-of-the-art ideas in the fields of chemistry,"Dequan Xiao

Dr. Xiao said graduate students “have the chance to learn, practice and apply those knowledge and skill sets to attack critically important problems such as molecular drug discovery, green catalyst design, polymer materials design, and chemical analysis for sustainable environment.”

Michael Saliby, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Department Chair, added, “If one can use theoretical and computational methods to design important molecules and pathways to making such molecules, it makes the experimental work less time-consuming.”

In the new program, graduate students choose between three tracks – a research-based internship, a research project or a graduate thesis. They’ll have opportunities to collaborate on projects with Yale researchers or intern at a biomedical firm, a materials science and engineering laboratory or a forensics laboratory. Courses include three-semesters of research seminars. “We are inviting experts across all areas of chemistry research, speakers from the region and, eventually, from across the country, so our students will constantly be exposed to state-of-the-art ideas in the fields of chemistry,” Xiao said. Students will also delve into research ethics. Around 10 students make up the inaugural class and Xiao anticipates the number will grow to 24 after two years.

The Master’s program came about after years of planning on the part of the department and to meet an ever-growing demand. “We have so many undergraduates interested in chemistry,” Xiao said. “A third of the forensic science undergrads pursue a major in chemistry and the graduate program in Forensic Science is very selective. So we know we needed to have a pipeline for those students and for all students who have an interest in pursuing graduate degrees in chemistry.”

“When you have chemistry knowledge, you have the freedom to create novel functional chemicals needed in the world."Dequan Xiao

Having a strong MS program will, in turn, “attract more students to the undergraduate Chemistry program, especially if we eventually are able to offer a 4+1 BS/MS program,” Saliby said. “We also expect that the integrative approach to research will attract funding for both graduate and undergraduate research.

Xiao said that chemistry plays a vital role in so many industries. “When you have chemistry knowledge, you have the freedom to create novel functional chemicals needed in the world. For example, you can create new molecular drugs to cure diseases; you can create new polymers for biomedical applications,” Xiao said. “You can work in the pharmaceutical industry, materials industry, data science, forensic science, or renewable energy which is a booming field now.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth will be robust for chemists and material scientists over the next decade and those “with advanced degrees” are expected to have better opportunities.”

“We need more innovative ideas in STEM fields to drive the economy,” Xiao said. “In all of these fields you need functional chemicals – and chemists to research and create them.”