Every day, I wake up trying to figure out how I can have the most impact. I was looking for a challenge, and I got one.
For her visionary leadership in sustainable energy and engagement with the broader scientific community and for her development of powerful theoretical methods based on quantum mechanics that have greatly influenced chemistry and engineering.
When Emily Carter studied under the tutelage of legendary chemistry and applied physics professor Bill Goddard (PhD ’65) at Caltech, she did more than advance her knowledge as a theoretical physical chemist—she internalized a philosophy that continues to guide her today. “Bill Goddard taught me that it’s not enough to generate data,” she says. “You should extract insights from the data that can change the way that people think. It’s great to dare to go out on a limb.”
Her life’s work has embodied that fearlessness and ambition.
Carter’s research has included nuanced investigations of fuel cells, biofuels, and lightweight metal alloys, all linked to sustainable energy production. Her findings have helped scientists understand photoelectrocatalysis, a light-driven electrochemical process used in solar fuels applications. In addition to breaking new ground throughout her career, she has broken glass ceilings. In 2017, she became the first woman to receive the prestigious Irving Langmuir Prize in Chemical Physics from the American Physical Society. A year later, she was the first woman to receive the American Chemical Society Award in Theoretical Chemistry.
Her 15-year tenure at Princeton University included serving as founding director of the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, where she oversaw an interdisciplinary and innovative program of research and teaching devoted to finding sustainable energy solutions for the world. From 2016 to 2019, she was dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
In the public sphere, Carter has been a powerful advocate for action to prevent climate change. She has been invited to speak on this issue in venues ranging from Capitol Hill to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
In fall 2019, she brought her vitality and ideas to UCLA, where she is now executive vice chancellor and provost. “Every day, I wake up trying to figure out how I can have the most impact,” she says. “I was looking for a challenge, and I got one.”