The Paint Branch Distinguished Lecture in Applied Physics was established and endowed by a generous gift to the Institute for Research in Electronics and Applied Physics in 2014 with the intention to bring luminaries in the field of Applied Physics to speak to our community.  It is our hope that this lecture will significantly raise the visibility of Applied Physics on our campus and beyond, and will grow to be an annual tradition that is anticipated, celebrated and widely attended.

Each year we will identify and invite a distinguished scientist to visit our campus and address our faculty, students, and colleagues. We welcome suggestions for speakers from all members of the UMD community. Suggestions can be sent to

The 2022 Paint Branch Lecture

How Quantum Mechanics Helps Identify Mechanisms and Discover Materials to Combat Climate Change

Paint Branch Distinguished Lecture in Applied Physics

Prof. Emily A. Carter, Princeton University and Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

When: Tuesday October 25, 2022 at 4:00pm (pre-lecture socialization at 3:30pm)

Where: 1101 A. James Clark Hall, University of Maryland

Abstract:  Each year that passes now brings more evidence that carbon dioxide and methane emissions are bringing our world closer to a tipping point beyond which it is unclear how humans and other living creatures will survive. I have been driven by this concern for the last 15 years. I decided a decade and a half ago to reorient all my research to work on sustainable energy solutions. I am a physical chemist by training, with expertise in quantum mechanics methods development and applications primarily related to materials science and chemistry. While I still work on sustainable energy, it is now evident that such solutions are not enough. We must stop emitting additional carbon into the atmosphere; we must go not just to zero but to negative emissions,1 in order to mitigate against worsening climate change caused by nearly a century and a half of fossil fuel extraction and burning. Thus, in addition to materials discovery for sustainable, carbon-free electricity (e.g., solar cells, fusion, solid oxide fuel cells), I work on catalyst discovery for renewable fuels, via (electro/solar thermo)-chemical water splitting and (photo/electro/solar thermo)-chemical carbon dioxide reduction. If we can produce liquid fuels from carbon dioxide and water – effectively running combustion backwards – via innovative catalysts that take in sunlight or carbon-free excess electricity, we will recycle carbon rather than extract and add more of it to the atmosphere and oceans. However, recycling carbon dioxide and methane is still not enough. We must convert and store carbon dioxide and methane permanently. Rather than focus on subsurface sequestration of carbon dioxide, let’s find more productive – and less risky – uses for CO2. In this talk, I will describe research related to carbon cycling back to fuels and useful chemicals, along with a vision for getting to negative emissions enabled by electrocatalysis. These approaches, along with available and emerging strategies in agriculture, forestry, and construction materials,2 may let our grandchildren and their descendants still enjoy the world we have been lucky enough to inhabit up to now. I hope that my talk will inspire others to join the effort.

1 See this report I coauthored five years ago:
2 C. Hepburn, E. Adlen, J. Beddington, E. A. Carter, S. Fuss, N. MacDowell, J. C. Minx, P. Smith, and C. Williams. "The technological and economic prospects for CO2 utilization and removal," Nature 575, 87 (2019). doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1681-6.


Professor Emily Carter is a theorist/computational scientist first known in her independent career for her research combining ab initio quantum chemistry with molecular dynamics and kinetic Monte Carlo simulations, especially as applied to etching and growth of silicon. Later, she utilized quantum mechanics, applied mathematics, and solid state physics to construct a diverse set of advanced simulation methods based on quantum mechanics: (i) linear-scaling orbital-free, density-functional theory (OFDFT) that can simulate unprecedented numbers of atoms quantum mechanically; (ii) embedded correlated wavefunction theories that combine quantum chemistry with periodic DFT to compute accurately condensed matter ground and excited electronic states, charge-transfer phenomena, and strongly correlated materials (furnishing, e.g., the first ab initio view of the many-body Kondo state of condensed matter physics and treatment of charge transfer and excited states of adsorbates on surfaces important for photo/electrocatalysis), and (iii) fast algorithms for ab initio multi-reference correlated electronic wavefunction methods that permit accurate thermochemical kinetics and excited states to be predicted for large molecules. She was a pioneer in quantum-based multiscale simulations of materials that eliminate macroscopic empirical constitutive laws and that led to new insights into, e.g., shock Hugoniot behavior of iron and stress-corrosion cracking of steel. Earlier, her doctoral research furnished new understanding of homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis, while her postdoctoral work presented the condensed matter simulation community with the widely used rare event sampling method known as the Blue Moon Ensemble.  Her research into how materials fail due to chemical and mechanical effects furnished proposals for how to optimally protect these materials against failure (e.g., by doping, alloying, or coating).  Her work, especially on optimizing thermal barrier coatings for jet turbine engines, unraveled long-standing mysteries as to the roles of various alloying elements in those coatings.

Her current research includes the development of efficient and accurate quantum mechanics simulation techniques such as her embedded correlated wave function theories and multi-level quantum simulation methods. She uses these techniques now mainly to elucidate mechanisms of photo- and electro-catalysis, aimed at discovery and design of optimal catalysts for carbon dioxide utilization and more recently solid sequestration, as could be enabled by excess renewable energy.

Professor Carter is the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment and a Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, and Applied and Computational Mathematics at Princeton University.  She also is the Senior Strategic Advisor for Sustainability Science at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, where she is working to diversify this Department of Energy National Laboratory’s portfolio into electromanufacturing and solar geoengineering.  She began her academic career at UCLA in 1988, rising through the chemistry and biochemistry faculty ranks before moving to Princeton University in 2004, where she spent the next 15 years jointly appointed in mechanical and aerospace engineering and in applied and computational mathematics.  In her early years at UCLA, she helped launch two institutes that still exist today: the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics and the California NanoSystems Institute.  During her first stint Princeton, she held the Arthur W. Marks ’19 and the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professorships.  After an international search, she was selected to be the Founding Director of Princeton’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.  From 2010-2016, she oversaw the construction of its award-winning building and state-of-the-art facilities, the development of novel educational and research programs, and the hiring of its initial faculty and staff.  She then served as Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) from 2016-19, where she spearheaded major research, education, outreach, and diversity initiatives.  These included developing and launching the Bioengineering, DataX, Robotics, and Metropolis initiatives, which originated from SEAS-faculty-led strategic planning in 2015-2016, as well as creating: the new first-year math and science curriculum to increase student retention in engineering; the position of the inaugural SEAS Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion; networking activities for SEAS faculty from underrepresented groups; extra-departmental mentoring of SEAS junior faculty; and more.  Most recently, she served as UCLA’s Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost (EVCP) and Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.  As chief academic and operating officer, she had the responsibility for the campus’ day-to-day operations as well as oversight of UCLA’s entire academic enterprise, and worked with the Chancellor and her leadership team to guide strategic planning and policy development, define budgetary and advancement priorities, and support strategic initiatives across campus and beyond.  During her two and one-third years tenure as EVCP (2019-2021), she co-led UCLA through myriad crises including the COVID-19 pandemic and brought transformative change via new initiatives that support graduate students, diversity across the career arc, professional development, institutional effectiveness, DataX research and education, education innovation, flexible work, and more. Upon her departure, UCLA appointed her Distinguished Professor Emerita of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.  Professor Carter maintains an active research presence, developing and applying quantum mechanical simulation techniques to enable discovery and design of molecules and materials for sustainable production of fuels, chemicals, and materials.  Her research group is currently supported by grants from the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Energy.

The author of over 450 publications, Prof. Carter has delivered over 575 invited and plenary lectures worldwide and serves on advisory boards spanning a wide range of disciplines. Her scholarly work has been recognized by a number of national and international awards and honors from a variety of entities, including the American Chemical Society (ACS), the American Vacuum Society, the American Physical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science. Among other honors, she received the 2007 ACS Award for Computers in Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research, was elected in 2008 to both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, in 2009 was elected to the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science, in 2011 was awarded the August Wilhelm von Hoffmann Lecture of the German Chemical Society, in 2012 received a Docteur Honoris Causa from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, in 2013 was awarded the Sigillo D’Oro (Golden Sigillum) Medal of the Italian Chemical Society, in 2014 was named the Linnett Visiting Professor of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, in 2015 was awarded the Joseph O. Hirschfelder Prize in Theoretical Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in 2016 was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, in 2017 was awarded the Irving Langmuir Prize in Chemical Physics from the American Physical Society, in 2018 was awarded the ACS Award in Theoretical Chemistry, in 2019 was honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award from the California Institute of Technology, a Graduate Mentoring Award from Princeton University, and the John Scott Award – the oldest science prize in the United States, in 2020 was elected member of the European Academy of Sciences, and in 2021 was awarded the Materials Theory Award from Materials Research Society.

Professor Carter earned a B.S. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1982 (graduating Phi Beta Kappa) and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1987, followed by a brief postdoc at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

About The Name

Paint Branch is a 14- mile stream that brings water from small streams and tributaries throughout the region, flowing south through our campus on its way to the Anacostia River. Many of us pass it by car, bicycle, or on foot each day on our way to and from work. Like the Paint Branch, we anticipate that this new lectureship will serve as a confluence that draws together the many talented and active researchers, faculty, and students in applied physics in our communiy and will remind us of our common goals and principles.

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