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Devon Widmer: Coder, Writer, Scientist

After several long years spent adventuring along the rugged, serpentine road of graduate school, the final glittering reward is at last in sight–that glittering reward being a PhD in theoretical chemistry.

However, one does not succeed as a graduate student without being, to some degree, a glutton for punishment. As such, rather than celebrating, I find myself yearning for the next great challenge: putting the skills I’ve learned as a researcher, coder, and communicator to work to plan, design, and code new projects.

With this website, I aim to highlight some of these projects with the hope that you can learn a bit about me and my passions. But first, a bit about my education:

Bachelor's Degrees

Master's Degrees

Coursera Specializations

PhD

In the spring of 2012, I graduate summa cum laude from Denison University as part of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society with a bachelor of science in chemistry and a bachelor of arts in English literature.

That summer I began graduate research in ultrafast spectroscopy as part of the Schwartz group at the University of California, Los Angeles. Although I enjoyed experimental work, being part of a group with such diverse research areas allowed me a unique opportunity: to trade grease stains on my brand new jeans from spilt vacuum pump oil for “just one more hour” spent debugging thosands of lines of poorly commented Fortran code.

Initially, staring up the theory learning curve, I felt like a fledgling mountaineer attempting to scale Mt. Everest. Fortunately, the hard work lead to the realization that I want to spend the rest of my life coding. I may have discovered my passion for coding a little farther down the educational road than some, but my experiences as a chemistry major, an English major, a writer, and a scientist have all added skills that improve the way I plan coding projects, research new concepts, solve problems, and discover new ideas.

 

Because my background is different than a typical software engineer, I have supplemented the coding experience I gained while conducting research and pursuing my own projects with two Coursera specializations:

  • Java Programming and Software Engineering Fundamentals
  • Object Oriented Java Programming: Data Structures and Beyond

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this statement. Feel free to peruse my coding projects, writing, and science below.

Coding: Explore My Past and Current Coding Projects

WordMash

  • A hillarious, grammatically correct text generator
  • Language: Java

As it chow down on input text, WordMash uses a custom-built dictionary to identify the part of speech of each word. WordMash remembers the available vocabulary and sentences structures so that it can spit out hilariously jumbled but grammatically correct output.

The Marble Prison

  • An interactive short story
  • Language: C#

Your first night in the big city had started as a whirlwind of glitz, glamor, and romance. How could you have known it’d turn out like this, that the handsome coquette who’d offered her hand for a dance would turn out to be the city’s most wanted thief—and that you’d wind up arrested for her crimes. Can you save yourself from this unexpected nightmare? Can you escape the Marble Prison?

Writer'sBlock Defender

  • A set of tools to help writer’s defeat the dreaded writer’s block
  • Language: Javascript

No matter how prolific an author, sooner or later she’ll fall victim to a blank page that seems determined to resist being filled. When writer’s block rears its ugly head, Writer’sBlock Defender is here help restimulate the writing process with plot generators, timed writing exercises, and words of encouragement.

Why Can't We Be Friends?

  • Capstone project for Object Oriented Java Programming: Data Structures and Beyond
  • Language: Java

Anyone who uses a social media site has probably gathered a large network of social media friends. My capstone project for the coursera specialization Object Oriented Java Programming: Data Structures and Beyond aims to help social media users optmize their friend netword by identifing any friendships that are not strongly connected (where the user and their friend do not share many common friends).

Molecular Dynamics Simulations

  • PhD dissertation project
  • Language: Fortran, Bash/Shell, Python

For my PhD dissertation in computational chemistry, I implemented mixed quantum/classical (MQC) molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of simple molecules in solution. I also wrote a set of data analysis scripts to rigorously analyze my results in preparation for publication and proposed novel scientific explanations to explain the trends in the data. 

VisuChem

  • A set of simple molecular dynamics simulations
  • Language: Java

Chemistry concepts like phase transitions or bond formation can seem abstract and confusing to students. VisuChem makes these concepts more concrete through simple molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. With VisuChem, students can see how the motions of molecules change during a phase transition or what happens to solvent structure when the polarity is increased, along with many other cool science concepts.

Writing: Browse My Short Stories, Articles, and Interactive Fiction

The Marble Prison

Your first night in the big city had started as a whirlwind of glitz, glamor, and romance. How could you have known it’d turn out like this, that the handsome coquette who’d offered her hand for a dance would turn out to be the city’s most wanted thief—and that you’d wind up arrested for her crimes. Can you save yourself from this unexpected nightmare? Can you escape the Marble Prison?

The Order of the Black Pill

Gripping the gnarled tree branch between her knees for support, Retta unfurled the slip of parchment to check the encoded directive one last time. “Iwfltsgwjfym Nss, Wttr Ymnwyjjs.” Dragonbreath Inn, Room Thirteen. Her eyes darted to the dark window at the end of the tree branch. Though the chill night air stung her cheeks and neck, the scar running down her left bicep burned. She rolled the parchment and tucked it into her shirt.

This was it. Her last second chance.

Read more in Pick Your Poison. 

Burnt Scrambled Eggs

After fishing a wedgie out of her crack, Tammy sighed into the musty refrigerator air. Her midnight snack options were limited to a jar of expired mayonnaise, half a carton of cracked eggs, and a solitary pickle swimming in its juices. Grimacing, she grabbed the pickle jar. But before she could unscrew the top, a puff of cold air tickled the nape of her neck. Startled, she whipped around to face … her empty kitchen.

Read more in MASHED: The Culinary Delights of Twisted Erotic Horror.

Neither Rain Nor Snow

Tara squinted at the guilded letters adorning the crumpled envelope:

Lady Penelope Windblade, Treehouse By the Thirteenth Black Willow Beyond Trail’s End, Toadmuddy Swamp

With an address like that, no wonder her predessor had refused to deliver this letter. Tara swatted a fat mosquito off her neck before shuffling the envelope back into her mail sack. What was the postal service motto again? Neither snow nor rain … nor bug-infested swamp, apparently. After a deep breath of sulfurous swamp farts, Tara resumed her journey.

Read more in Meet Cute.

Science Articles

With all of the jargon and techno-babble that fills much of scientific writing, its no wonder those without a science background can’t wade through.. My aim in writing science articles is always to make the subject, no matter how complex, fun and approachable.

Quantum Cat’s Tour of the Wonderfully Weird World of Quantum Mechanics

The Dizzying Physics Behind FIgure Skating Spins and Office Chair Shenanigans

Professor Gobbles Dispels The Thanksgiving Myth of the Narcotic Turkey

Microfiction

A story doesn’t have to be long to make an impact. Below is a sampling of my microfiction:

Year’s End at 50 Word Stories

The Death of a Dream at 50 Word Stories

The Tale of Sir Primpsalot at 50 Word Stories

When an Air Nymph Loves a Water Nymph at 50 Word Stories

Skin at 101 Fiction

Curiosity Lauched the Space Race in Alien Elections

Science: Learn About My Research and Science Outreach

Molecular Dynamics Simulations

For my PhD dissertation in computational chemistry, I implemented mixed quantum/classical (MQC) molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of simple molecules in solution. I also wrote a set of data analysis scripts to rigorously analyze my results in preparation for publication and proposed novel scientific explanations to explain the trends in the data.

ScientistsArePeopleToo.com

A lowly grad student’s quest to prove that all scientists are people and all people are scientists (yes, even you)!

ScientistsArePeopleToo.com is my science blog dedicated to bringing my love of science to a general audience. Not everyone wants to become a theoretical chemist, but everyone can be a scientist by approaching the world around them with an open mind and a sense of wonder.

Science Articles

With all of the jargon and techno-babble that fills much of scientific writing, its no wonder those without a science background can’t wade through.. My aim in writing science articles is always to make the subject, no matter how complex, fun and approachable.

Quantum Cat’s Tour of the Wonderfully Weird World of Quantum Mechanics

The Dizzying Physics Behind FIgure Skating Spins and Office Chair Shenanigans

Professor Gobbles Dispels The Thanksgiving Myth of the Narcotic Turkey

WikiEdu Course

While teaching UCLA’s Chem 113A (Quantum Chemistry) course, I orchestrated a collaborative project with WikiEd, an organization that encourages students to add to the knowledge on Wikipedia by expanding existing articles or even authoring new articles. For the project, I designed a ten-week plan, led the students through WikiEd traning, taught them research techniques and citation guidelines, and helped each student make a tangible contribution to the scientific knowledge on Wikipedia.

Science Videos

Students entering general chemistry courses often have widely varied mathematical backgrounds. To help bridge this mathematical gap, I created several math tutorial videos.

Introduction to Exponential and Logarithmic Functions

Introduction to Derivatives

Introduction to Integrals 

Science Outreach

As someone who loves science, one of the greatest feelings in the world is helping someone overcome their insecurities about science and discover new passions for the world around them. During my graduate school career, I have sought out programs that encourage middle and high school students from under-resourced communities to become excited about science. Through one such program, Letters to a Pre-Scientist, I exchange letters with middle school students to tell them about my experiences as a scientist, encourage them to try age-appropriate science experiments, and answer science questions.