Alumna Scientist Visits Middle School

After completing a Science unit focused on Astrophysics and creating their own physical models of constellations, Class 5 students were joined by an experienced scientist, and Chapin alumna, Lindsay Bassman ’07.

Dr. Bassman shared her journey to becoming a scientist, starting with her Chapin days. “I was an athlete,” she said as photos from her time at Chapin appeared on the screen. “I loved my Math and Science classes, but I didn’t even take AP physics in high school!”

After graduation, she left New York to attend The University of Chicago, where she received her undergraduate degree in Computer Science and, later, a masters in Physics. Dr. Bassman also received her PhD in Physics at the University of Southern California.

“I’m a bit of a hybrid scientist,” Dr. Bassman explained, revealing that her current research intersects Computer Science, Condensed Matter Physics, Quantum Chemistry, Materials Science and Quantum Information Science.

“There are many ways to become a scientist,” she said. “Most importantly, you must love and enjoy what you’re working on.” She noted that there is an array of areas to get involved with such as companies, institutes, labs and universities.

Dr. Bassman explained that she didn’t know she wanted to be a scientist until after college and that her first job helped her realize she wanted to do something else. “You are always able to change your path,” she emphasized.

“I began reading Quantum Computing for Computer Scientists,” she said. Her interest in the subject grew so much that she ended up going back to school to study physics.

Currently, Dr. Bassman works at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California conducting research. In her opinion, “The biggest job in science is research. It’s all about discovering new things. It’s a very exciting time in science right now. We’ve come so far and can do so much.” Dr. Bassman is particularly interested in designing new ways to use quantum computers to discover new materials to advance technology and medicine.

“A major recommendation would be to learn to code,” Dr. Bassman offered. She noted that almost every field uses coding as a tool and it can be useful even if you don’t pursue science.

She continued to describe her work to the engrossed students, noting that quantum computing allows us to learn a lot. She defined the vital pieces of her work including Quantum (a discrete part of something), Quantum Mechanics (a branch of physics that studies what happens at the atomic level) and Quantum Computing (computer built with quantum bits that use strange quantum phenomena to perform calculation that classical computers cannot).

Dr. Bassman also detailed various real-life examples of quantum computing. She explained that healthcare companies are interested in using quantum computers to aid in manufacturing new drugs. By employing this emerging technology to accurately simulate how a drug interacts with the human body, drug developers may be able to tweak drugs for a particular patient, thereby making the drug more effective. Additionally, airlines could benefit from this new technology by using quantum computers to optimize flight schedules to minimize delays and find the best routes.

Finally, Dr. Bassman noted, quantum computers could potentially be used to combat climate change. Currently, production of fertilizer for agricultural purposes accounts for ~1% of global energy usage due to the extreme temperatures and pressures required by the current synthesis method. Molecular simulations on quantum computers may provide insights into less energy-intensive ways to make fertilizers, thus reducing the carbon footprint of a process that is currently a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Dr. Bassman continuously underscored that many areas of science connect, further driving the fact that there is no one direct path that students must take to pursue their dreams.

The class ended with a Q&A session where the group asked thoughtful and in-depth questions. The students gave a hearty round of applause for their esteemed guest, their interest surely piqued, and geared up to tackle their next unit: Chemistry!