I think it is important for students to get that sense that they are doing or seeing something that was unknown. This permits them to stay curious and explore new ways to understand the material or solve problems.

Brian Williams lives by two main philosophies.

Professionally, he adheres to the concept, "The complete physical chemist solves his own equations and blows his own apparatus." Says Williams, "Blowing his own apparatus" historically references when chemists literally made their own equipment through glassblowing. "Thus as a professional," he says, "I need to be competent in experimental measurement and the theoretical description of phenomena related to physical chemistry. This is a goal that I keep striving for."

Williams' other mantra, "Stay curious," further influences his academic pursuits. He developed an interest in solvatochromism, the ability of certain compounds to change either the wavelength of light they absorb or emit depending on what they are dissolved in, simply because he was curious about what triggered such changes. He became involved with the other focus of his research — mathematical chemistry — because he enjoys wrestling with equations and seeing if he can reach a scientifically rigorous solution. Says Williams, "There is always more to learn about everything, and finding things out is one of the best ways of having fun I can think of. Physicist Richard Feynman expressed this idea through the phrase 'the pleasure of finding things out.'"

Williams believes his multifaceted work impacts students in at least two ultimately interconnected ways: His students participate in research with him in the laboratory and develop the competency they need to execute successful experimentation. "I try to remind them that when they take a measurement, this is very likely the first time that result has been seen," he says. "I think it is important for students to get that sense that they are doing or seeing something that was unknown. This permits them to stay curious and explore new ways to understand the material or solve problems."

Posted October 2012

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