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Andlinger Center News

October 28, 2015

Emily Carter

Emily Carter, the founding director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University, was awarded last week the 2015-16 Joseph O. Hirschfelder Prize in Theoretical Chemistry, a major honor that previously has been bestowed upon four Nobel Prize winners.

Carter, the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment, is the first Princeton faculty member and first woman to receive the honor in the 25-year history of the award, which is administered by the Theoretical Chemistry Institute (TCI) and Department of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Carter was recognized for her overall body of work, said James L. Skinner, the Joseph O. Hirschfelder Professor at Wisconsin’s chemistry department and the director of TCI.

Skinner cited Carter’s current research on sustainable energy such as fuel cells, biofuels, using sunlight to generate electricity and make chemical fuels, and exploring lightweight metal alloys for use in fuel-efficient vehicles and fusion reactor walls. Skinner also singled out her contributions to theoretical and computational chemistry in her developments of orbital-free density functional theory, a quantum mechanical method for studying a large number of atoms, and embedded correlated wavefunction theory, which allows local electronic excited states and charge transfer to be treated accurately in condensed matter. This latter theory has helped scientists understand photoelectrocatalysis more effectively, he said. Photoelectrocatalysis is a light-driven electrochemical process that is further accelerated by the presence of a catalyst.

“Theoretical chemists hadn’t made much progress on photocatalysis because they didn’t have adequate methods,” said Skinner. “She developed theories that allow her to tackle more complex problems than could be studied in the past.”

During a banquet with over 100 attendees on Tuesday, Oct. 20, Skinner presented Carter with the Hirschfelder Prize, named after Joseph O. Hirschfelder, a longtime physical chemistry professor at Wisconsin and who was notable for participating in the Manhattan Project and for being one of the founders of the field of theoretical chemistry.

“Some theorists develop methods and algorithms, and others apply existing methods to specific problems. Emily does both, which I think is very admirable, and extremely powerful,” Skinner said during his remarks at the event.

Carter said she directed much of her banquet speech to the graduate students in the audience and applauded them for their choice of studying physical chemistry.

“I told them they were very fortunate to be trained to be physical chemists because with this grounding in math, physics, and chemistry, they could go forth and work in many different science and engineering disciplines,” Carter said, recalling her talk. “I urged them to use their talents to make a difference in the world not just scientifically but to also think about how to treat people around them humanely. And this does not always happen to people in science – especially for minorities and women in science and engineering.”

Carter also presented three lectures on her research at Wisconsin and had individual research discussions with many faculty, students, and researchers over a three-day period.

Carter, also a professor in the departments of mechanical and aerospace engineering and applied and computational mathematics, has been recognized by many institutions over the years. Recent honors include: election in 2008 to both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, election in 2009 to the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science, the August Wilhelm von Hofmann Lecture of the German Chemical Society in 2011, a Docteur Honoris Causa from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in 2012, the Sigillo D’Oro (Golden Sigillum) Medal of the Italian Chemical Society in 2013, and the Linnett Visiting Professorship in Chemistry at the University of Cambridge in 2014.

Over her long and productive career, Carter has written over 300 publications and given nearly 500 invited and plenary lectures across the globe.

Carter earned her bachelor of science in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1982 and her doctorate in chemistry from California Institute of Technology in 1987. After a year as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder, she spent 16 years on the faculty of University of California, Los Angeles, as a professor of chemistry, and later also of materials science and engineering. In 2004, she moved to Princeton University and was then appointed in 2010 to be the founding director of the Andlinger Center.

For questions, please contact Sharon Adarlo, Andlinger Center communications specialist at or 609-258-9979.