When physicist Nicholas Brawand, PhD’17, first heard about the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago—then the Institute for Molecular Engineering—it was 2013, and he was conducting research at the University of California, Davis with Prof. Giulia Galli. In the summer of 2014, Galli transferred to UChicago and she encouraged Brawand to come with her.
Brawand, who participated in Boeing’s software/systems engineer internship and worked as a Bechtel teaching fellow at the Colorado School of Mines prior to conducting research at University of California, Davis, began his PhD at UChicago that fall.
Working in Galli Group, he took a particular interest in quantum dots. He developed quantum mechanical modelling methods based on first principles to predict the optical properties of quantum dots. Quantum dots have several technological applications, from the creation of phone displays to the harvesting of solar energy.
After graduating in 2017, Brawand accepted a position at Disney as a decision science consultant and simultaneously served on Florida Polytechnic University’s Data Science & Business Analytics Curriculum Advisory Board. While neither role focused explicitly on the quantum dots that he had become so familiar with, the principles that guided that research remained.
For example, as a decision science consultant, Brawand was responsible for creating revenue management systems.
“Much of decision science is based off of concepts from probability theory and optimization,” he explained. “Studying particles like electrons, you use quantum mechanics. And understanding quantum mechanics requires both probability and optimization. All of that ended up translating over.”
Today, in his work as an artificial intelligence researcher at Design Interactive, Inc., the connections persist. However, in addition to drawing from his technical skill set in probability theory, optimization, and machine learning, Brawand also finds himself writing research grants—and crediting another crucial course he took while at Pritzker Molecular Engineering: technical writing.
“Communication, especially as a scientist, is super important,” he said. “A lot of winning proposals are based off of establishing a relationship with somebody through written and verbal communication.”
For Brawand, this all-inclusive approach—and the ability to learn how to learn—is vital to students and scientists alike.
“My time doing research as a graduate student taught me how to create value no matter where I work. I am very grateful to have a degree from PME.”