Gary J. Snyder
Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Physical organic chemistry — experimental and theoretical
Gary Snyder's research focuses on the synthesis and spectroscopic detection of new molecules designed to test the limits of ideas about structure and bonding. Specifically, Snyder is studying small organic molecules that "choose" to leave two electrons unpaired, in defiance of the classical principle of maximum bonding. The experimental work is guided by calculations using state-of-the-art electronic structure theory. Beyond being fundamentally interesting, these "Kekulé biradicals" might one day form the basis for organic-based ferromagnets and electronic devices, as well as materials with switchable magnetic and optical properties.
Several years ago, in collaboration with Jakob Wirz (Univ. Basel), Snyder and a former Univ. of Chicago graduate student, Dan McMasters, succeeded in making the only known Kekulé biradical. By using a new ab initio computational method, RASSCF-RASPT2, Snyder has since identified several other small hydrocarbons that should also leave two π-electrons unpaired and prefer to exist in a paramagnetic form. These calculations also revealed the underlying factors that control the relative energies the different electronic states of these molecules. Snyder plans to continue these computational studies at MHC, building on work begun by talented undergraduate students at Amherst College and UMass toward the preparation and experimental study of these unusual compounds.
Over the past 20 years, Snyder has taught sophomore-level organic chemistry at Amherst College, UMass, UC San Diego, and Univ Chicago, among others, to classes ranging from 20 to 400 students. He has also taught general chemistry and advanced courses in physical organic chemistry and in computational organic chemistry. He is looking forward to teaching general chemistry (Chem 101) lecture and lab here at MHC.
When not doing chemistry, Snyder works as a construction supervisor and build team coordinator with the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate. He has also served as the Five-College advisor to Habitat since 2005. Snyder recalls in particular some very capable and enthusiastic students from MHC who helped build two houses in Turners Falls several years ago and looks forward to seeing more MHC students at the new house sites in Montague City, Amherst, or Northampton in the coming year.