Schwartz, Benjamin J.

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Vice Chair
California NanoSystems Institute

Contact Information

Young Hall 2077A
(310) 206-4113
Young Hall 2072
310) 206-6418

Short Biography

Professor Schwartz received his bachelor's degree with a double major in physics and chemistry from the University of Michigan in 1986, and went on to receive his Ph.D in physical chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1992, working with Prof. Charles B. Harris. Professor Schwartz then spent 2.5 years working as an NSF postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin with Prof. Peter J. Rossky, and an additional 1.5 years working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Santa Barbara with Nobel Laureate Alan J. Heeger. Prof. Schwartz joined the UCLA faculty in 1997 as an assistant professor, reached the rank of associate professor in 2002 and reached his current rank of full professor in 2004.


Professor Schwartz joined the faculty at UCLA in 1997, after which he established a research program aimed at building a molecular-level picture of chemical reaction dynamics in the condensed phase. The Schwartz group is one of the few pursing both experimental and theoretical approaches to solving chemical reaction dynamics problems. The experimental techniques focus largely on femtosecond spectroscopies, and particularly 3-pulse pump-probe experiments that allow for direct examination of transient species such as the excited states of conjugated polymers or reactive solvated atoms and electrons. The theoretical techniques include both the development and application of new algorithms for dealing with the breakdown of the Born-Oppenheimer approximation in mixed quantum/classical simulations and the development of new methods for deriving the pseudopoentials used in such simulations. Prof. Schwartz has served as the department's curriculum committee chair from 2003-2005 and has been serving as the department's graduate advisor since 2005; Prof. Schwartz was also the department's elected representative to the College Faculty Executive Committee from 2003-2007. Prof. Schwartz is also currently a Senior Editor for the Journal of Physical Chemistry, and serves on the advisory boards of several other journals. Prof. Schwartz has authored over 100 refereed publications during his career.

Research Interest

Research in the Schwartz group is aimed a building a molecular-level understanding of chemical reactivity in complex environments by studying condensed-phase chemical reaction dynamics using both experimental and theoretical techniques: femtosecond laser spectroscopies and mixed quantum/classical molecular dynamics simulations. Projects fall into two main areas: studies of how solvent motions control the rates and even the choice of products in solution-phase chemical reactions, and investigations into the electronic structure and optoelectronic behavior of semiconducting conjugated polymers.

Our first main area centers on solvent effects on chemical reactivity. We use femtosecond pump-probe spectroscopies to experimentally monitor the course of solution-phase chemical reactions in real time, allowing us to "watch" the motions of solvent molecules responding to chemical changes of reacting solutes, monitor the flow of energy between reacting species and the solvent, and identify the motion of electrons during charge transfer reactions. These experiments are accompanied by computer simulations, which make use of sophisticated algorithms allowing for quantum dynamics in the absence of the Born-Oppenheimer approximation (see Figure 1). Projects range from studies of model systems such as solvated metal anions or solvated electrons to investigations of large organic molecules with complex photochemistry. Simulations are done in close connection to the femtosecond experiments, so that experimental results drive new simulations and vice-versa, providing students in the group with an opportunity to do both experimental and theoretical work.


Our second main area of research is focused on the electronic structure of conjugated polymers, which have enormous commercial potential for use in light-emitting diodes, displays and photodetectors. Upon photoexcitation, the electrons and holes created in semiconducting polymers interact with their environment, leading to relaxation processes on multiple time scales; many of the important dynamical issues are qualitatively similar to the solution phase reactions discussed above. One of the main focuses in our group is the study of how excitations on neighboring conjugated polymer chains interact. By combining information from femtosecond and steady-state spectroscopies, scanning force microscopy, and the behavior of polymer light-emitting or photovoltaic devices, we can identify and potentially eliminate undesirable electronic properties. Projects include: studies of energy transfer and lasing behavior in inorganic/conjugated polymer composite materials (see Figure 2); studies of the electronic processes that take place in conjugated polymer/fullerene bulk heterojunction solar cells; and characterization of polymer-metal electrode interfaces using non-linear spectroscopies such as second harmonic generation. This work provides students the opportunity to learn fundamental photophysics, polymer processing techniques, and semiconductor device construction.

Honors & Awards


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