When Amazon was founded in the 1990s, no one likely could have predicted the corporate giant it would one day become.
From selling books exclusively to now having a hand in everything from e-commerce to autonomous vehicles to artificial intelligence, Amazon has become one of the “Big Five” information technology companies in the United States.
When the company established its Amazon Scholar program in 2018, the goal was to employ leading academics to apply their research methods toward solving major technical challenges. Only about 200 to 300 have been chosen over the last four years, so it is considered high praise to be selected for the program.
This year, the University of Colorado Boulder saw its second researcher chosen for the program, Professor Hendrik Heinz, a faculty member from the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department. He will serve in the program for one year.
“It does feel really exciting to be selected for the program, but I also feel very privileged,” Heinz said.
Some of the “preferred qualifications” for the program include being a recognized expert in the applied science community and routinely applying knowledge from other disciplines in their work.
Additionally, an Amazon Scholar should be published in top-tier, peer-reviewed conferences or journals, while having a broad knowledge of applied mathematics and a foundational understanding of algorithms and computational complexity.
Heinz has that, and more. Scrolling through his faculty page on the CU Boulder website takes a few seconds longer, due to the lengthy list of awards and publications the professor has obtained over a nearly 20-year career.
His work as an Amazon Scholar began earlier this month. Heinz’s research interests include the development and application of new tools for the simulation of nanostructures and functional materials, including force fields, surface model databases, biointerfaces and more.
“We have seen encouraging results of our simulations from atoms to the microscale, which exceed the accuracy of prior simulation methods between 10 and 100 times and cover a large chemistry space that was previously not available to molecular simulations, including inorganic and organic chemistry,” Heinz said.
In an engagement letter to CU Boulder officials from the program organizers, Heinz’s work with Amazon is “indicative of Amazon’s intention to engage more deeply with the University of Colorado Boulder.”
In addition to the research Heinz will do during his time in the program, he will also expand industry experience that he can relay to his students.
“We have previously teamed with companies and translated insights from simulations into patentable technology and consumer products,” Heinz said. “Taking innovative basic research from chemical theory and computation to use-inspired and applied problems in collaboration with experimental and corporate development teams has multiple benefits.
For example, we obtain feedback on limitations and future development needs, graduate students are excited to see practical applications, and we align with the mission of engineering programs.”