Courtesy of Charles Schmuttenmaer

Charles A. Schmuttenmaer, a Yale professor of chemistry and pioneer in the field of time-resolved terahertz spectroscopy, died July 26 at the age of 56 at his home in New Haven.

Schmuttenmaer, who joined Yale’s faculty in 1994, led a physical chemistry research group focused on applications of THz spectroscopy, which utilizes a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to make measurements.  Schmuttenmaer held membership in numerous academic societies, and he was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society, and the Royal Society of Chemistry. 

He was a vital and vibrant colleague, a dedicated teacher, and an outstanding scientist: his absence will be sorely felt,” Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler wrote in an email to the News.

Schmuttenmaer was born in Oak Park, Illinois. After he obtained a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1985 and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1991, he completed postdoctoral work at the University of Rochester. He attained full professorship at Yale in 2003.

Schmuttenmaer’s research group has also investigated transient photoconductivity, electron injection efficiency and organic molecular crystal vibrational modes, according to its website. Chemistry professor Gary Brudvig, who now oversees Schmuttenmaer’s research group students, remembered him as “a very enthusiastic guy.”

Brudvig and Schmuttenmaer, along with fellow chemistry professors Robert Crabtree and Victor Batista, collaborated closely on artificial photosynthesis. According to Brudvig, Schmuttenmaer’s THz expertise allowed for the measurement of photoconductivity on very short timescales, which allowed the researchers to understand the efficiency of reactions.

According to Brudvig, Schmuttenmaer rarely missed a meeting, adding that he contributed to thoughtful discussion among the scientists.

“He was not shy about bringing out points he didn’t understand or he thought others didn’t understand,” Brudvig said. He added that this leadership benefitted the entire group’s understanding of the material at hand.

In addition to his work in the Chemistry Department, Schmuttenmaer was an active member of the Yale Faculty Senate. Gendler wrote that she was “deeply saddened by Charlie Schmuttenmaer’s untimely death,” noting that President Peter Salovey and she had sent letters of condolences to Schmuttenmaer’s family.

Charlie was among the inaugural senators elected when the FASS was established, and those of us who have worked alongside him these past years came to love and admire him for his boundless good humor, his open-mindedness, his passion for equity and good university governance, his work ethic, and his commitment to the Senate and to Yale,” added fellow FAS Senator and American Studies professor Matthew Jacobson.

In addition to renowned scholarship, Schmuttenmaer was a beloved advisor to many Yale undergraduates.

“He was very animated, always very happy, very friendly,” chemistry major Dan DiPrimio ’21 said of Schmuttenmaer, the first Yale professor he met. DiPrimio described him as a “very effective” teacher who was “always available.”

Another one of Schmuttenmaer’s physical chemistry students, Marcus Sak ’21, said the professor “made abstract concepts tangible.” Sak recounted the ways Schmuttenmaer made class more interesting — such as bringing in a working Stirling engine, a type of engine that converts heat energy to mechanical work — or, as Sak fondly recalled, briefly riding a skateboard.

DiPrimio similarly recalled a lecture on the Ideal Gas Law during which Schmuttenmaer played the Rolling Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” — which includes the lyric “it’s a gas.” This occurrence showcased the professor’s love of music, said DiPrimio.

Schmuttenmaer traveled the world to conduct his scholarship and engage with the academic community, connecting him with colleagues hailing from as far as China and Australia. A note left online on his obituary in the New Haven Register by the International Society of Infrared, Millimeter, and Terahertz Waves listed 54 signatories from around the globe.

The Yale Chemistry Department wrote in a July posting on their website that once in-person gatherings are feasible, it would host a symposium honoring Schmuttenmaer and commemorating his accomplishments.

Matt Kristoffersen contributed reporting.

Giovanna Truong | giovanna.truong@yale.edu