Beck Hanscam smiles on a bench beside a white husky with its tongue out.

Postdoctoral Researcher Spotlight: Beck Hanscam

Categories: Postdocs, Research

Postdoctoral Researcher Beck Hanscam describes their research and answers 20 random questions.

Beck Hanscam joined the MIT Department of Chemistry as a postdoctoral researcher in October 2023. They grew up in Alaska, and completed their undergraduate studies at University of Puget Sound, graduating with degrees in Chemistry and Math before going on to earn their doctorate in chemistry at UC Berkeley.

Beck’s focus as a theoretical chemist is developing novel methods of untangling the complexity of molecular excited state energetics by leveraging property-based targeting and non-linear optimization strategies. In the Van Voorhis Group, Beck is exploring similar strategies for the reliable calculation of excited states in larger molecular systems through fragment embedding approaches. Recently, they have also been collaborating with the Baldo Group in the Department of Electical Engineering and Computer Science on building a computational model that describes the kinetics and relative efficiency of blue OLEDs of differing construction, with the aim of understanding the types of chemical processes involved.

“I have always wanted to understand how the world works in very fine detail, and therefore I naturally gravitated towards chemistry during my undergrad,” said Beck. “Determined to continue my forays into math theories and computer modelling, I found the field of theoretical chemistry to be the perfect combination of pen-and-paper math, battling with code, and the reality check of applications in chemistry. In the future I hope to continue in academia and build a research group of my own, focusing on bringing high-level chemistry modelling to mitigating the effects of climate change. I want to show aspiring scientists that people of all genders have a place in STEM and academics.”

As the Postdoctoral Researcher in the Spotlight, Beck reveals some small things that make their day better, the best vacation they’ve ever taken, the item that’s worth investing more in to get the best, and more.

  1. What are some small things that make your day better?
    Good coffee, good conversations, and voluntary snuggles from my husky.
  2. What is the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
    I visited a friend in Norway one fall and we spent a month exploring the mountains and fjords, watching the Northern lights, drinking copious amounts of tea and taking multitudes of blurry bird pirtures.
  3. What food do you crave most often?
    Salad, specifically so I can have the toasted sesame dressing from Trader Joe’s.
  4. If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?
    Run in the nearest mountain range with my husky! I do my best thinking in the mountains.
  5. What’s worth spending more on to get the best?
    Rain gear, absolutely.
  6. What was your favorite book as a child, and what is your favorite book now?
    As a kid I loved Harry Potter, and now my favorite books are by Andy Weir, especially Project Hail Mary.
  7. If you could have a never-ending candle that smelled like anything you wanted, what fragrance would you want it to be?
    Spruce trees after it rains.
  8. If you could pick any career other than the one you’ve chosen, what would it be?
    Dog mushing!
  9. Who is the most famous person you have met?
    I met David Tennant (The 10th Doctor) when I was visiting London in high school.
  10. What is special about the place you grew up?
    Alaska is the land of the midnight sun, which really just means you can start a hike at any time of day or night during the summer. So many possibilities.
  11. What bends your mind every time you think about it?
    The movie Inception. I seriously don’t understand. Someone please explain.
  12. Where is the most interesting place you’ve been?
    I’ve spent significant time in Prince William Sound in Alaska living on a boat, dissecting halibut organs and pulling octopi out of our shrimp pots, exploring glaciers, beaches, and estuaries, wading through tidal pools for nudibranchs and jelly fish, and climbing granite cliffs to reach the best blueberry picking spots while keeping an eye out for ammonites.
  13. If you suddenly became a master at woodworking, what would you make?
    Wooden kayaks!
  14. What did you think you would grow out of but haven’t?
    I still use my fingers to count.
  15. What hobby would you get into if time and money weren’t an issue?
    Ultra-running. I love a good long distance run or ski.
  16. What is your secret talent?
  17. Where was the most amazing sunset you have ever seen?
    From the peak of Mount Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, looking out over Puget Sound with alpenglow on Mount Rainier in the background.
  18. Who are three of your favorite fictional characters?
    Newt Scamander, Gollum, and Rey Skywalker.
  19. What inconsequential super power would you like to have?
    Automatic subtitles for conversations.
  20. What animal or plant do you think should be renamed, and what should the new name be?
    When they get moody, huskies should be renamed “sulky seals”.