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Physical Chemistry

Working on microchip under microscope in the lab.

Powerful toolsets that track chemistry in action

Physical chemists are “philosophers” of chemistry, aiming to understand the underlying mechanisms of chemical systems, light and matter. They develop and implement versatile and powerful experimental and theoretical toolsets to track chemistry in action, understand natural phenomena, and facilitate downstream applications in a quantitative and predictive manner, which has been increasingly collaborative and synergistic. Physical chemistry research contributes to all areas that require a deeper understanding of how things work at the molecular, electronic and atomic levels, which broadly impact the materials to biological fields in order to address pressing issues in energy sectors and human health.

We achieve success through cutting-edge research and by paying close attention to our graduate students: providing them with resources for professional and personal growth.

Wei Kong

Department Head and Professor

We are accepting graduate students!

Graduate students in physical chemistry will learn about quantum mechanics, computational chemistry, and molecular spectroscopy for broad applications in active collaborations with modern materials, energy, and biological scientists and engineers.

Learn more about becoming a grad student 
Find out about our first-year courses 
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Research seminars

We maintain an active seminar program with both academic and industrial speakers from across the country and around the world. These seminars are typically given on Thursday afternoons at 4 pm.

Students actively participate in the seminar program through individual meetings with the speakers. In addition, students also have more informal interactions including lunch with the visiting scientists. In fact, many of the lunches have ultimately translated into postdoctoral positions and job opportunities.

Each spring, a leader in the field of organic chemistry is invited to present the James D. White Honorary Lecture. This award was started in 2011 to honor the distinguished Professor Emeritus Jim White. Professor White has made sizable contributions to organic chemistry research for over four decades at Oregon State University and was honored with the Centenary Medal (1999), Cope Scholar Award (2003), and MDF Discovery Award (2004).


The experimental labs in physical chemistry are fully equipped with a complete gamut of lasers, spectrometers, detectors, high vacuum systems, high energy electron beams, and cryogenic systems, for research activities ranging from microscopy to spectroscopy in the gas phase and condensed phase. Pulsed lasers with durations from nanosecond (10-9 s) to femtosecond (10-15 s) offer high resolution in the time domain and the frequency domain through various advanced optical setups. In particular, cryogenic cooling can produce superfluid helium droplets down to 0.4 K, for laser field-induced alignment and electron diffraction. Several variations of electrospray ionization mass spectrometers are being used to prepare proteins and nanomaterials for both mass and structural analysis. On the dynamics side, the wavelength-tunable femtosecond stimulated Raman spectroscopy (FSRS) can enable the capture of “molecular movies” in functional nanomachines ranging from fluorescent-protein-based biosensors, novel battery electrolytes, to photovoltaic thin-film devices. Furthermore, a collaborative NSF-MRI laser lab provides an ultrafast pump-probe instrument for experimental thin-films experimental research with a magneto-optic cryostat across a wide temperature range (~1.7 to 350 K) and magnetic field (up to 7 T).