Chemist Rigoberto Hernandez comes to Sewanee as Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholar


The University of the South chapter of Phi Beta Kappa will welcome Rigoberto Hernandez to campus on Oct. 22 and 23 as a visiting scholar. Hernandez is a leading computational and theoretical chemist, as well as a national leader in the area of diversity and inclusion in chemistry and the sciences broadly, through his work as director of Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity (OXIDE). He will deliver two lectures to the campus community; the public is welcome at both.

Hernandez will speak on “Transitions and Janus Particles” at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22, in Gailor Auditorium. A reception will follow the talk.

In Roman mythology, Janus is the god of transitions. He has two faces: one looking to the future and one to the past. This metaphor provides a basis to discuss challenges and opportunities presented to those students who walk in two cultural worlds. In Hernandez’ case, these were demarcated by the languages of his youth, Spanish and English. Colloidal particles, with each of their two hemispheres having a distinct type not unlike the other—or so-called Janus particles—assemble and move in unexpected ways. Throughout his talk, Hernandez will discuss how life's transitions and the chemistry of Janus particles mirror each other, giving the audience a deeper perspective on both. 

On Friday, Oct. 23, Hernandez will discuss “Structure and Dynamics of Janus, Striped and Coarse-Grained Particles” during the Chemistry Department Seminar at 2 p.m. in Woods Laboratories, room 216.

In addition to the lectures, Hernandez will participate in several smaller discussions with students and other constituencies across campus.

Rigoberto Hernandez is a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Georgia Tech, a co-director of the Center for Computational Molecular Science and Technology, and the director of the Open Chemistry Collaborative in Diversity Equity (OXIDE). He holds a B.S.E. in Chemical Engineering and Mathematics from Princeton University, and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. Hernandez was born in Güinez, Havana, Cuba, but was raised and educated in the U.S. from primary school on.

Hernandez’ research area can be broadly classified as the theoretical and computational chemistry of systems far from equilibrium. This includes a focus on microscopic reaction dynamics and their effects on macroscopic chemical reaction rates in arbitrary solvent environments. His current projects involve questions pertaining to the structure and dynamics of assemblies of Janus and other patchy particles, fundamental advances in transition state theory, and the role of molecular reactions in nonequilibrium air.

Hernandez has received numerous awards, including a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the Alfred P. Sloan Fellow Award, the ACS Award for Encouraging Disadvantaged Students into Careers in the Chemical Sciences, and the CCR Diversity Award.

The Phi Beta Kappa Society’s Visiting Scholar Program offers undergraduates the opportunity to spend time with some of America’s most distinguished scholars. The purpose of the program is to contribute to the intellectual life of the institution by making possible an exchange of ideas between the Visiting Scholars and the resident faculty and students. 

Founded in 1776, the Phi Beta Kappa Society is the nation’s oldest and most recognized academic honor society.  It has chapters at 283 colleges and universities and more than half a million members throughout the country.  Its mission is to champion education in the liberal arts and sciences, to recognize academic excellence, and to foster freedom of thought and expression.