PROFILE | Chemistry professor Nilay Hazari’s mission to “educate, inspire and excite”
The News spoke to Nilay Hazari, a professor of chemistry, about his devotion to making STEM exciting.
Courtesy Of Nilay Hazari
In his first General Chemistry lecture of the semester, Nilay Hazari set the atmosphere by playing radio pop songs as students filed into the hall.
His presentation was interspersed with two Taylor Swift music videos and numerous pictures of his son. The penultimate slide contained an image of his face photoshopped onto Carly Rae Jepsen’s body, politely requesting students to “call him ‘Nilay’” .
For many of the roughly 250 students gathered in the lecture hall, the introduction dispelled the intimidating reputation of General Chemistry.
Hazari arrived at Yale in 2009, where he researches inorganic chemistry. His lab team, the Hazari Group, focuses on developing transition-metal-based catalysts that could convert carbon dioxide into valuable products such as fuel or pharmaceuticals.
“Chemistry is responsible for antibiotics, semiconductors, the Haber-Bosch process and many of the systems which we require to function as a society every day and has an impact on a lot of people’s lives,” Hazari said.
Hazari told the News that he feels like he is able to make a difference through the Hazari Group’s research.
The team also works on creating new bonds to form molecules, making the process of molecular formation easier. Although Hazari said that his lab is unlikely to have a global impact, it is “nice to be aiming there.”
The chemist grew up in Melbourne, Australia, where he studied science at the University of Sydney. He received a doctorate at the University of Oxford in inorganic chemistry before arriving at the California Institute of Technology for a postdoctoral fellowship.
Hazari decided to study chemistry for three reasons, he said. First, he was always good at chemistry. Second, Hazari acknowledged the excellent chemistry mentors he had throughout his education. Third, he wanted his work to have an impact and “be in a field where [he] felt like [he] could have an impact on the quality of life of people.”
This year is Hazari’s first time teaching Chemistry 161 in person. Hazari said that he enjoys teaching because he gets to show the importance of science and chemistry to young people.
Teaching Chemistry 161 allows Hazari to serve as first-year students’ first exposure to Yale, he said.
“He does a great job breaking concepts down to their simplest level while also ensuring that the class stays engaged by adding humor to his lectures,” Lior Gurion ’26 said.
Joy is a priority for Hazari. He said that his main goals when teaching are “to educate, inspire and excite.”
One of his students, Lila Salazar ’26, told the News that in that respect, he has succeeded.
“But the beginning-of-the-class pop culture references and his end-of-class experiments demonstrate that he genuinely is committed to inspiring a love for chemistry early on in undergraduate students,” Salazar told the News.
Tasked with running his own lab, teaching a large lecture and taking care of his recently turned 1-year-old son, Hazari is a busy man. He expressed his appreciation for the teaching assistants, the students in his lab and his wife.
Despite his hectic schedule, Hazari said that he tries to live in the moment. Rather than divide his attention, he focuses on “what I am doing now and how can I do that as well as I can, because I’m not good enough to do two things at once.”
Although students are eager to take on all the opportunities that Yale offers, Hazari said that he worries that some of his students may overwork themselves or sacrifice what they really enjoy doing.
“Everything in life is a balance,” Hazari said. “It’s about striking a balance between maximizing opportunity, but also functioning as an organized, responsible and happy human being.”
In February, Hazari was named the John Randolph Huffman Professor of Chemistry.