Christopher Arumainayagam

Nancy Harrison Kolodny '64 Professor of Chemistry

I am a physical chemist who uses surface chemistry techniques to study radiation chemistry.

The goal of my research is to elucidate the fundamentals of electron-molecule interactions in the condensed phase. My studies of low-energy electron-induced chemical reactions may provide information valuable to

  • furthering cost-efficient destruction of hazardous chemicals by high energy radiation
  • understanding the electron-induced decomposition of feed gases used in the plasma processing of semiconductor devices
  • clarifying the role, if any, of low-energy electrons, produced by cosmic rays, in interacting with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to produce Cl atoms which contribute to the destruction of ozone and the formation of the ozone hole
  • illuminating the dynamics of electron-induced oligomerization and/or polymerization
  • explicating the astrochemistry of icy grains in the interstellar medium
  • understanding electron-beam-induced deposition (EBID), a technique that may in the future provide an alternative to photolithography in the semiconductor industry to produce nanoscale structures.

My research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, American Chemical Society, Research Corporation, and the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation. The majority of my research is done entirely at Wellesley College with undergraduate students using a state-of the-art ultrahigh vacuum chamber which incorporates many custom-built components. My student collaborators learn how to perform helium leak checks, change oil in vacuum pumps, build electronic circuits, spot-weld difficult junctions, and perform sophisticated computer modeling—hands-on work, especially important for prospective scientists. I have delighted in involving many high school and first-year Wellesley students in my research program.

In addition to teaching courses in introductory and physical chemistry, I have taught seminar courses in surface chemistry, computational chemistry,radiation chemistry and astrochemistry. I view teaching and research not as a struggle between two opposing forces but as a seamless blend of the two. For example, we use the equipment available in my research laboratory to reenact the classic experiment of Davisson and Germer as a dramatic confirmation of the wave nature of matter, a highly theoretical and abstract concept for most students.

My teaching style involves what is now called guided inquiry. The lecture outlines I hand out at the beginning of each lecture require students to fill in the missing material, allowing students to follow along and stay engaged during the lecture. Following each lecture, I also provide my students with in-depth notes whose fine-tuning requires a significant amount of my time each semester. What is unique about these notes is that I address, often in footnotes, student questions, going back over a decade, elicited from “one-minute” papers.

I have been the principal investigator of four successful National Science Foundation REU summer research grant proposals (2000–2013). The goal of the Chemistry Department’s summer research program is to encourage bright young women to pursue research careers in science and medicine through their participation in a research project as early as possible in their academic careers.

I enjoy spending time with my wife and two children, travelling, gardening, and playing table tennis (not ping pong). In my younger days, I enjoyed playing cricket, a perversion of which is baseball.


  • A.B., Harvard University
  • Ph.D., Stanford University