In Memoriam: Charles Schmuttenmaer

Friday, August 7, 2020

It is with sadness that we mourn the passing of Charles (Charlie) Schmuttenmaer, Professor of Chemistry, faculty member of the Energy Sciences Institute, and beloved friend and colleague to many at Yale’s West Campus.

Born in Oak Park, Illinois, Charles A. Schmuttenmaer received a B.S. degree in chemistry from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1985, and a Ph.D. degree in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1991. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Rochester and in 1994 he joined Yale University.

Professor Schmuttenmaer was a pioneer in the development and applications of terahertz (THz) spectroscopy. His lab explores novel applications of time-resolved THz spectroscopy (TRTS) and THz time-domain spectroscopy (THz-TDS). In particular, the group exploit the unique features of TRTS to characterize the efficiency of electron injection in dye-sensitized photoelectrochemical cells, as well as transient photoconductivity in semiconductors, quantum dots, nanoparticles, and nanotubes.

A second major research area involves THz-TDS coupled with high level ab initio quantum chemical calculations to probe and understand the low-frequency collective vibrational modes in organic molecular crystals. A primary goal is to experimentally measure and theoretically compute the optical activity of these low-frequency modes.

Alongside fellow chemists Gary Brudvig, Robert Crabtree, and Victor Batista, Schmuttenmaer made up the Yale Solar Group, a collaboration dedicated to mimicking the natural process of photosynthesis in the lab to transform sunlight into useable transportation fuel.
“We will sorely miss Charlie in our Solar Group,” said Brudvig. “We’ve been meeting as a group every week for the past 15 years and Charlie rarely missed a meeting. His pioneering work to use THz spectroscopy to measure photoconductivity was key to our studies of interfacial charge injection on metal oxide nanoparticles,” he said.

“Charlie was never shy about asking questions that made us think hard about our science,” continued Brudvig, who directs the Energy Sciences Institute at West Campus. “He often livened up the group meetings with videos, such as “How to Make a Solar Cell from Donuts and Tea” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”
Schmuttenmaer taught the graduate course Molecules and Radiation II and remained committed to regular remote meetings with his students through the 2020 pandemic. A recent Yale Daily News article described the Professor of Chemistry as an “ordinary guy,” grounded and supportive of his students.

Nearly “any topic” could be discussed in his research group - from politics (“go vote!”), to graduate student life, and always a consistent focus on science. His openness led a recent group member to enroll at Yale over other graduate schools.

“His views on how science should be done meant that we were encouraged to pursue our own ideas and projects,” explained his students. “He always had his group’s back.”

A constant presence to his research group, Schmuttenmaer was equally engaged in meetings and gatherings in support of the West Campus community.  

“I remember how welcoming he was, and the genuine interest he showed in my work,” recalled Chris Incarvito, Associate Provost for Science Initiatives, of being welcomed by Schmuttenmaer to the chemistry department in 2002.

“Charlie’s commitment to the development of Yale’s scientific community stretched far beyond lab. His outgoing personality made it naturally easy for him to engage others as a mentor, colleague, constructive critic, and friend simultaneously.”

Charles Schmuttenmaer was a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Physical Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was inducted as a Fellow of the AAAS in 2015, a Fellow of the APS in 2016, and a Fellow of the RSC in 2019.