Meet the department's newest faculty member: Professor Helen Tran

February 27, 2020 by Dan Haves

The department is excited to welcome the arrival of Helen Tran as our newest faculty member. Dr. Tran has been appointed as Assistant Professor, based at the downtown campus, with a cross-appointment to the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry and will begin January 2021.

Joining us from Stanford University where she was an Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Fellow in the lab of Zhenan Bao, Dr. Tran completed her Ph.D. under Luis Campos at Columbia University. She is also an ACS PMSE Future Faculty Scholar and an AAAS IF/THEN Ambassador.

Team Tran will be leveraging polymer chemistry and self-assembly to construct macromolecular bioelectronics. Her group, which will be composed of chemists, material scientists, and chemical engineers, will molecularly design materials with emergent properties for next generation electronics to address unmet challenges in health and the environment.

Dr. Tran’s mentoring philosophy centres on developing a synergistic relationship of effective communication and tailored support for enhanced mentee self-efficacy, productivity, and fulfillment.


Meet Helen Tran


What sparked your interest in chemistry? 

Growing up, I was always keen on pursuing a career with a creative and artistic slant. To my surprise in college, I fell in love with Organic Chemistry. It was a beautiful mix of molecular design and tangible construction of new materials with atomic precision. It is important to understand which building blocks to use and which synthetic techniques are needed for chemical transformations. In the end, you make molecules that nobody else has ever made, and they can potentially be used for new technologies.

What are you looking forward to exploring in your lab at U of T? 

I sometimes refer to myself as a molecular architect, and I specialize in designing polymers. When building blocks ("monomers") are connected together, they form a larger chain called a polymer. The type of building blocks used, how they are connected, and how many of them are connected all influences the final properties of the material. I am interested in using building blocks that are electronically active, sequences that are encoded for self-assembly, and connections that are reversible for recyclability. The new materials that will be developed by Team Tran will address current unmet challenges in health and sustainability.

What keeps you busy outside of the lab? 

Outside of research, I enjoy learning about how simple, functional, yet innovative designs are implemented in architecture, products, and service models. I hope to translate these concepts in my scientific work. Also, from biking to cross-country skiing, I find a lot of joy spending time outdoors.