“My most important research experiences at Caltech were with Erick Carreira,” Chavez says of his second-term organic-chemistry professor. Carreira was not only influential as a teacher and research leader, but he also helped Chavez apply to graduate school—even calling department heads on his behalf. Chavez ended up pursuing his doctorate at Harvard.
Armed with his Caltech training and PhD from Harvard, Chavez went back to Los Alamos as a postdoctoral fellow. “The position gave me a lot of freedom to pursue what I wanted rather than having to work on any specific project,” he says. In addition to innovations that brighten the sky, Chavez’s efforts have made military duty safer by improving weapon systems. He still works at Los Alamos, currently as a principal investigator and project leader.
“Synthesizing new molecules often has an artistic quality to it,” Chavez says. “You can shape atoms into arrangements never before seen in nature."
Despite his busy schedule, Chavez finds time to mentor young people, paying back the support he received as a student.
“I believe that it’s important to nurture that same sense of curiosity [I had], of always wondering how things work,” says Chavez. “A number of people helped to instill it in me, and now I see it in my own children. It gives me great hope for the future.”