Student Stories


Frank Hu Receives Society of Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh Award

Carnegie Mellon University senior Frank Hu received the College Chemistry Award from the Society of Analytical Chemists of Pittsburgh for his research using machine learning to enhance semiempirical methods of computational chemistry.

“I’m honored to have received it,” said Hu. “It’s good to know that all the effort I put into research over the years is recognized.”

When Hu arrived at CMU, he knew he was passionate about chemistry and wanted to pursue a chemistry major. Initially, he thought he would be working in a wet lab, like many of his friends. However, after an honors chemistry course with David Yaron, professor of chemistry, his interest in theoretical chemistry was piqued.

“He was talking a little bit about the theoretical side of chemistry, and I thought that it sounded kind of interesting,” said Hu. “I went to him after class one day and asked if I could join his research group.”

Hu was taking a class on the coding language Python at the time, and with that basic programming knowledge, he was able to begin working in the Yaron lab.

In the Yaron Lab, Hu assists with a project involving computational chemistry. In this discipline, chemists use the known properties of molecules to see what the likely outcome is if they are combined. However, the current methods, ab initio methods and semiempirical methods, are flawed. Ab initio methods are extremely accurate at determining how chemicals will interact, but they are very slow. Semiempirical methods are much faster, but they have lower accuracy. Hu and Yaron hope that by adding machine learning to current semiempirical methods, they can make a process that is both fast and accurate.

“I wasn’t always the biggest fan of math and programming,” said Hu. “That’s changed since, and I can’t really imagine myself doing anything else now. That’s definitely something I’m going to continue doing in my graduate career and then probably for the rest of my life.”

Hu was accepted to multiple graduate chemistry programs at institutions including Stanford University and the University of California Berkley, and he chose Stanford University for his Ph.D. There, he plans on continuing his work in computational chemistry and further develop his research skills.

As part of the College Chemistry Award, Hu received a $500 prize that he plans on using to help him build a more powerful computer for his research.

■ Kirsten Heuring