PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — For Joe Cavanagh, chemistry is much more than one of the fundamental fields in the physical sciences.
“Chemistry is a very eclectic science informed by physics, math and intuition,” he said. “As a subject, it’s old, but I wouldn’t say it’s straightforward — it’s a big, confusing mess of lots of different principals, some of which we can mathematically formulate and some of which we just can’t.”
Fascinated by this complexity since high school, Cavanagh said he came to Brown because its Open Curriculum would enable him to carve an academic path that followed his own curiosity — about chemistry, the principles beneath it, and the complex, real-world phenomena that it has the potential to explain.
“I came here to learn about chemistry, learn about science and learn about how the world works,” he said. “For me, getting to chase different ideas that interest me is how I learn these things best.”
As a junior chemical physics concentrator, Cavanagh studies quantum mechanics — a field at the intersection of chemistry and physics that theorizes the principles governing the tiniest elements of matter: atoms and the subatomic particles that compose them.
“If I want to understand the world around me, it makes sense to start with this fundamental groundwork,” he said.