College of Arts and Sciences appoints Wei You as new Department Chair of Chemistry



June 17, 2020

By Alice Zhao

The College of Arts and Sciences appoints Wei You as the new Department Chair of Chemistry. The informed decision involved a search committee, led by Jaye Cable, and vision statements from candidates as well as multiple rounds of interviews. You will begin his three year appointment on July 01, 2020. He will succeed Jeff Johnson, who served as Department Chair from 2016-2020.  

The College Dean’s Office is grateful to all faculty who make the selfless commitment to serve as Department Chair.  When this appointment is made for a department, it is undertaken with much thought and care for the well-being of the unit and the tone it sets for a department’s future.  We are thrilled to have Dr. Wei You serving in this important role in Chemistry.  He brings a collaborative approach and a strong commitment to the future of the chemistry department at UNC-Chapel Hill. I look forward to working with him said Jaye Cable, Senior Associate Dean for Natural Sciences and Mathematics. 

Wei is an internationally recognized scholar in polymer and materials chemistry and is ideally suited to lead the UNC Department of Chemistry at the start of our [department’s] third century.  He is a creative scientist who enjoys tackling and solving difficult problems, having demonstrated this characteristic time and again with his research team.  The department will benefit from his embrace of excellence in all forms in our research, teaching, and service missions” said Jeff Johnson, current Department Chair and A. Ronald Gallant Distinguished Professor. 

You is a professor of chemistry and Applied Physical Sciences and leads a research group whose focus is on solar cells. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Science and Technology of China in 1999 and a Ph.D. in Organic/Polymer Chemistry from the University of Chicago in 2004. Prior to joining the department in 2006, You spent two years at Stanford University where he completed his postdoctoral training in chemical engineering.  

In his new position, You plans to make research excellence his priority. You recognizes the importance of research for the department and plans to continue encouraging powerful research that has long filled the labs in the chemistry buildingsOne of his goals for his position is to encourage intra- and interdepartmental collaboration as a means to foster diverse thinking and a robust workplace.  

Read the Q&A, below, to learn more about You’s background, his career as a Chemist, and plans for his new position as Department Chair.  

Q: Congratulations on your upcoming appointment as Department Chair for the Department of Chemistry! Describe what this position means to you.  

This is a great Department. The collegiality one feels within UNC Chemistry is unparalleled. Since I first joined UNC Chemistry as a junior professor back in 2006, the Department has been consistently supportive of my career development. When I was asked to serve by my colleagues, it was very difficult to say no! Accepting the position as Chair for this well-respected Department means great responsibility, and I appreciate the trust my colleagues have placed in me.    

Q: Describe your career path to becoming a Chemist.  

I was 14 years old, in the ninth grade, when I first learned about Chemistry. It was truly amazing to see the instructor run these “unexpected” experiments; imagine the first time you see the sustained burning of a metal strip (magnesium) and the dazzling flare that followed. I thought the instructor must have been a magician! At that moment, I was immediately drawn to Chemistry and knew I wanted to pursue a career in it.  

In 1999, I graduated from the University of Science and Technology of China with a B.S. in Chemistry with a concentration in polymer chemistry. My next stop was the University of Chicago. I worked there for five years under professor Luping Yu to complete my Ph.D. in ChemistryIn 2004, my wife and I packed up our bags and drove 2,200 miles to California where I would complete my postdoctoral training at Stanford University. At Stanford, I worked with professor Zhenan Bao and conducted research in chemical engineering. Two years later, my wife and I packed up our bags again and headed to the east coast where I would join the Department of Chemistry at [UNC] Chapel Hill (aka Southern Part of Heaven) as a junior professor of chemistry 

Q: What is your research focused on?  

My research group [the You group] and I strongly believe that our research should have clearly defined end applications; thus the overarching theme of our research program is application oriented fundamental research.” We apply contemporary chemistry to enable the discovery of new materials, focusing on clean energy and human health as our applications. Our lab is currently pursuing three main areas: (1) conjugated polymers for solar cells, with a particular focus on stability of such solar cells; (2) low dimensional organic-inorganic hybrid perovskites with unique properties for optoelectronic applications, including solar cells, light emitting diodes, etc., and (3) developing orthogonality in polymer chemistry to design sophisticated and ‘smart’ polymeric materials, required by a variety of applications, for example, drug delivery and soft robotics/ electronics. 

Q: What are some items you would like to accomplish as Department Chair?  

One of my priorities is maintaining research excellence. Our department recently celebrated its bicentennial. One of the keys to our successful history is to identify and recruit talented early career scientists and to provide sustained support throughout their career at Chapel Hill. Furthermore, providing resources to our faculty to promote teaching excellence is another priority of mine. 

Q: What do you like to do when you are not working?  

Nothing (because I am always working…this is a joke of course!). In my time away from the lab and classroom, I enjoy spending time with my family. My kids and I enjoy riding bikes, watching movies, and doing yard work (actually, my kids enjoy this more as they can earn $). My wife and I enjoy traveling with our kids. Last summer, we spent a week in California visiting a few national parks. It was a wonderful trip as I did not get to see this part of the Golden State during my busy years as a postdoc at Stanford! 

Q: Is there any additional information you would like to share? 

Believe it or not, I started my lab in the old Venable building before it was demolished in 2007. I even moved my lab twice within just six months in the old Venable. It was like a ghost town in there; we were the only lab in the old Venable!