Prof. Susanna Widicus Weaver brings a love of chemistry and expertise in astronomy

By Caroline Cole
Department Communications

Susanna Widdicus Weaver
Susanna Widdicus Weaver

Vozza Professor of Chemistry Susanna Widicus Weaver arrived at UW–Madison in May to conduct research in prebiotic astrochemistry and on how life may form with the evolution of stars and planets. Weaver received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Illinois Wesleyan University (2000) and her Ph.D. in chemistry at California Institute of Technology (2005). She most recently was a professor of chemistry at Emory University.

What made you pursue science and research?

I’ve been interested in science since I was a small child. I was always fascinated by space. I was thrilled in high school when I discovered that you could combine chemistry and astronomy. My entire career path since then has been guided by this passion.

What drives your passion for teaching?

Anyone who has a degree in chemistry can tell you that most students fear physical chemistry. ACS used to hand out “Honk if you passed pchem” bumper stickers. My teaching goal is to make pchem less scary for students.

What excites you most about coming to Madison?

I am a Midwest farm girl who studies astrochemistry. I’m so thrilled to be back in the Midwest with such an amazing opportunity to advance my research.

students outside with red hardhats on and green trees in the background
From left: Katarina Yocum, Connor Wright, Hayley Bunn and Chase Schultz stand on the platform of the Green Bank Telescope, with the Green Bank Observatory 140 Foot Telescope in the background.

Who else will be working in your lab?

• Hayley Bunn (4th-year graduate student) studies oxygen insertion reactions into small organic molecules to make molecules of astrochemical interest.
• Connor Wright (4th-year graduate student) studies small organic ions and radicals of astrochemical interest.
• Katarina Yocum (4th-year graduate student) has developed a new experimental technique to study the gas above an interstellar or cometary ice analog.
• Chase Schultz (3rd-year graduate student) studies biological precursor molecules of astrochemical interest.