APIDA Heritage Month Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Hong Li

May 21, 2024
Hong Li

The College of Science is celebrating APIDA (Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American) Heritage Month by featuring some of the College’s outstanding faculty with Asian roots. Our next featured faculty member is Dr. Hong Li, an Associate Research Professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. 

The College of Science spoke with Dr. Li to learn more about her journey to the University of Arizona, some of her favorite traditions, and how her physics teacher in high school inspired her to study science. 

You can learn more about Dr. Li and her work here.

Dr. Hong Li

Associate Research Professor, Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry

College of Science: Tell us a little about yourself, your background, and your journey to the University of Arizona. 

Li: I am a computational materials scientist now, but my training was in theoretical physics. I received my Ph.D. degree in physics from Nankai University in China, with a specialization in quantum statistical field theory. I then had the opportunity to join the late Professor Tara Prasad Das’s group in the Department of Physics at SUNY Albany as a visiting scholar, where I realized my true passion for research was to understand the electronic and magnetic properties of condensed matter materials using first-principles computational methods. This passion has continued through the years when I was a RIKEN Fellow in Japan (RIKEN is a Japan National Research and Development Agency), a research associate at Michigan State University, a research scientist at Georgia Tech, and now a research professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Arizona. I came to the University of Arizona as an associate research professor in the research lab led by Professor Jean-Luc Brédas, where I have worked for the past 19 years.


COS: When looking back on your childhood and spending time with family, are there any favorite traditions or memories that stick out to you?

Li: I have two favorite traditions, both of which are connected to the celebration of holidays. The first is celebrating Chinese New Year with my parents and siblings in China, and the other is spending Christmas with my husband and daughter here in the US. Interestingly, we always make dumplings for both occasions.     


COS: Who are some of the people who have made the greatest impact on your life?

Li: The person who made the greatest impact on my professional life is my high-school physics teacher. He was a passionate teacher and always encouraged me when I was able to solve a difficult problem. Inspired by him, I chose physics as my major in college. While I am a computational materials scientist now, I believe the training I obtained as a physics major laid the foundation for my graduate studies and the trajectory of my career.


COS: What was it that drew you to your area of research and expertise?

Li: What drew me to my current area of research is the beauty of understanding, at the atomistic level, the geometric and electronic structures of molecules and solids. As a computational materials scientist, I use computers to first build model systems, then apply different computational methods to evaluate the electronic, magnetic, and optical properties of these model systems. Our group has strong collaborations with many experimental groups. When our experimental collaborators discover new phenomena, they often require further theoretical understanding.  I enjoy figuring out the principles or reasons behind such phenomena.


COS: What is your favorite part of being a scientist?

Li: My favorite part of being a scientist is that you always have unknown regimes to explore, and it is so rewarding when you have the answers.