Nathan Ricke stands atop a mountain

Graduate Student Spotlight: Nathan Ricke

Categories: Students

Chemistry Graduate Student Nathan Ricke describes his research and answers 20 random questions as part of the Graduate Student Spotlight series.

Nathan Ricke was born in Rochester, Minnesota, and is currently wrapping up his fourth year at MIT as a member of Professor Troy Van Voorhis‘ research group. Nathan’s research is focused on two somewhat separate projects: one is developing methods for the quantum embedding problem, where the group is trying to split simulating the electrons in a single molecule into multiple separate problems that are in total less computationally expensive. The second project is understanding the behavior of fuel cells, modeling their reaction intermediates and kinetics for possible pathways.

As the May 2018 Graduate Student Spotlight, Nathan reveals the items he would be buried with in Ancient Egypt, the uniqueness of where he grew up, the unconventional toy that had the biggest impact on his childhood, and much more!

1.    What toy played the biggest part in your childhood, and why?
The family computer that ran DOS because my dad didn’t upgrade it until Windows 98. I learned how to activate the computer games on a command line before I learned how to read.

2.    If you could turn any activity into an Olympic sport, what would you have a good chance at winning medal for?
I’m not generally naturally talented at video games, with one very specific exception: a roguelike called Faster Than Light. It’s not clear why, but the game just kind of clicked for me as soon as I picked it up.

3.    What is your dream car or other mode of transportation?
Definitely a spaceship, preferably one that attains relativistic speeds.

4.    If you had a personal flag, what would be on it?
A fractal with a lot of spiral patterns.

5.    What weird food combinations do you really enjoy?
Saltines crackers and yogurt.

6.    What movie can you watch over and over without ever getting sick of it?
It’s not exactly a movie, but the mini-series Over the Garden Wall is movie length and has my highest number of rewatches.

7.    In ancient Egypt, people were buried with the items they would need in the afterlife – what would you want buried with you so you could use it in the afterlife?
Hiking boots and a blue, wide-brim hat.

8.    Which is your favorite city in the world?
The Twin Cities, one part for character and the other for nostalgia.

9.    If you received a salary to follow whatever passion you wanted to, what would you do?
I would be a Sci-fi novelist.

10.    How did you decide to do the work you are doing now?
I liked programming and chemistry, so theoretical chemistry seemed like a good fit. I came to MIT thinking I might work on modeling for solar energy, but instead I ended up working on fuel cells, which I quickly appreciated was a different aspect of the same general energy problem

11.    What is your favorite book of all time?
Invisible Cities. I’ve re-read the last chapter in particular enough times that I’ve lost count.

12.    What is special about the place you grew up?
I suppose what’s special is that I didn’t really grow up in one place. I lived in five different states before college, across each of the continental US times zones.

13.    What did you think you would grow out of but haven’t?
I still like cartoons.

14.    Who are three of your favorite fictional characters?
Lord Vetinari (Discworld)
Breq (Imperial Radch Trilogy)
Creideiki (Startide Rising)

15.    What movie universe would be the worst to live out your life in?
I find Gattaca a rather chilling and plausible possible future.

16.    If magic was real, what spell would you try to learn first?

17.    What movie, picture, or video always makes you laugh no matter how often you watch it?
Funny British Animal Voiceovers.

18.    What outdoor activity haven’t you tried, but would like to?
Scuba diving

19.    If you were given one thousand acres of land that you didn’t need to pay taxes on but couldn’t sell, what would you do with it?
I’d build a cabin in the center, and let the rest return to nature.

20.    What food is delicious, but a pain to eat?
Really gooey caramel.


Many thanks to Nathan for these thoughtful answers! Stay tuned for more Graduate Student Spotlights in the months to come!