This fall, renowned theoretical and computational chemist Laura Gagliardi will join the University of Chicago as the Richard and Kathy Leventhal Professor in the Department of Chemistry, with joint appointments in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME), and the James Franck Institute. She will also direct the Chicago Center for Theoretical Chemistry.
Gagliardi’s research interests include the development of new quantum chemical methods and the computational design of energy-relevant materials, with a special focus on spectroscopy, catalysis, and photochemistry.
“We are delighted to welcome Laura as a joint appointment in Pritzker Molecular Engineering,” said Matthew Tirrell, dean of PME. “She is known internationally for her work studying complex chemical systems and problems related to renewable energies, and this expertise will help us increase our ability to make an impact in the area of materials systems for environmental sustainability. I look forward to working with her and expanding our research in this area.”
Part of Gagliardi’s approach to complex scientific problems is to create new accurate methodologies using multiple approaches. Her research group includes members who develop theories and codes, and others who focus more on application.
“The chemistry and materials science challenges that we try to address computationally cannot be solved with off-the-shelf methodologies, so we have to invent our own theories and computational approaches,” said Gagliardi. “There is an interplay between these challenges and developing the tools to address them.
“For example, we are interested in studying catalysis for C-H bond activation and designing novel supported catalysts for this purpose. These are challenging systems that usually contain many transition metals, with complex electronic structures that change over the course of the reactions of interest. Accurate theories have yet to be developed for such situations and we have to do it ourselves if we want to explore relevant systems.”
Beyond research, Gagliardi enjoys her role as an educator.
“Performing research is very rewarding, but I enjoy working with my students and postdocs even more,” said Gagliardi. “I get to see them maturing and becoming more knowledgeable than me in their research area. This is of great satisfaction for an educator.”
Originally from Italy, where she received her PhD, Gagliardi held a postdoctoral position in the United Kingdom and worked in Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland before coming to the United States in 2009.
“Having worked in different countries and with people from different cultures, I value a diverse team,” said Gagliardi. “I’m grateful my team comes from so many different backgrounds and I think our experience can bring a lot to the table.”
Gagliardi also advocates for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). She has spoken in several national and international venues about opportunities for women and the unique challenges they face in STEM fields, and she advises female students both in her own group and others on how to succeed as practicing professionals. She credits her mother, now retired from many years teaching math, as her inspiration.
Gagliardi has received numerous awards, including the 2020 Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry from the American Chemical Society, the 2019 Award in Theoretical Chemistry from the Physical Chemistry Division of the American Chemical Society, and the Humboldt Foundation Research Award and Bourke Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry.
She was elected a member of Academia Europaea, the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science, and the World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists, and a fellow of the American Physical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry. She serves as an associate editor of the Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation, the leading theoretical chemistry journal in the world.