Dr. Joel Bowman Takes Sabbatical in Germany with Alexander von Humboldt Research Award

Dr. Joel Bowman, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry here at Emory University, is no stranger to the international scientific arena. While he is a fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, his academic success spans far beyond our national borders. Dr. Bowman also serves as a member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Sciences and, most recently, received the international Alexander von Humboldt Research Award in recognition of his lifetime achievements and potential future discoveries. This award, given by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany, seeks to foster international scientific collaborations by inviting award recipients to carry out research projects alongside their German colleagues.

This Spring, Dr. Bowman used his award to work at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in collaboration with professor Alec Wodtke of the University of Goettingen. Before arriving in Goettingen, Dr. Bowman also took the opportunity to travel to Cambridge University where he caught up with colleagues and further strengthened his international collaborations. His research interests involve theoretical and computational techniques to explore chemical reactions and molecular vibrational dynamics. Specifically, Dr. Bowman is interested in understanding the intricacies of the hydrated proton, a seemingly simple player in acid/base chemistry whose true nature is still widely misunderstood.

During his travels, he visited several labs in Germany that share this interest, working on chemical reaction dynamics. In addition, while there was certainly plenty to learn during his trip, Dr. Bowman didn’t miss the opportunity to teach as well. He helped to organize a workshop titled “Developing High-Dimensional Potential Energy Surfaces- From the Gas Phase to Materials”. The workshop was centered around machine learning, a topic which has recently gained attention across several scientific disciplines. By using computer simulations to understand complex mechanisms and quantitatively make predictions, machine learning provides scientists with a powerful tool for addressing otherwise inaccessible inquiries.

The far-reaching scope of machine learning mirrors the breadth of Dr. Bowman’s travels and collaborations. Although he has returned from his sabbatical, Dr. Bowman already plans to revisit Germany in the near future. He says that Germany has “tremendous scientific energy” and is excited to continue collaborating with colleagues across the globe. Of course, during his travels, he will continue to take advantage of the high density of science in Europe. With planes, trains, (and bikes!), he can reach out to colleagues across the entire continent in a very unique and powerful way.

Finally, Dr. Bowman wants to encourage other scientists to reach out for collaborations across the world. He emphasized the value of international collaborations, noting how they can completely transform ideas and enhance the quality of science. “If machine learning is able to take lots of data across boundaries,” says Dr. Bowman, “well then so is science.”