Computational chemist Chad Risko featured in ‘I am a UK Innovator’ series

Video by Jeremy Blackburn and Erin Wickey, Research Communications.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 18, 2022) — Scientific discoveries that lead to important innovations happen every day at the University of Kentucky. Research Communications has partnered with UK’s Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) to feature faculty innovators with groundbreaking ideas in “I am a UK Innovator,” a four-video series.

OTC works collaboratively with innovators to strategically assess, protect and license early-stage technologies and co-create new technology startups. In this Q&A, Chad Risko discusses the innovation ExpFlow, which could help the research community confirm results by repeating, or reproducing, experiments — an activity fundamental to scientific progress. Risko is an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, an affiliated faculty member of the Center for Applied Energy Research and faculty director of the Office of Undergraduate Research.

UKNow: Describe ExpFlow and the motivation behind this innovation.

Risko: ExpFlow is a software platform that allows one to plan and track experiments and the associated data that is generated, and then curate the data in a database. ExpFlow is also being developed to perform routine data analyses. With ExpFlow, our aim is that experimental procedures and data becomes easier to share, which will include all aspects of the experiment and the associated metadata. There have been high-profile instances of experiments and reports not being reproducible, which has caused significant harm to the fields where these instances take place. We hope that ExpFlow can help to alleviate these issues.

UKNow: What inspired you to pick this specific area of research?

Risko: Our interests are two-fold. First, we are interested in building more seamless connections between researchers and machines in the laboratory, with the aim of accelerating the pace of scientific discovery. At the same time, we aim to make data that is developed in laboratories more accessible so that it can reproduced and used by scientific teams around the world.

UKNow: What is the most challenging aspect of your research?

Risko: The most challenging aspect of our research is bringing together the necessary insights from multiple disciplines and translating them into outcomes that are accessible first to our team, and then to the broader scientific community. 

UKNow: What have been the most rewarding moments for you regarding your discoveries?

Risko: While there are obvious answers regarding the science, the most rewarding moments have been discussing new ideas and discoveries with the students that are working on the projects and witnessing firsthand their growth in confidence and identification as scientists.

UKNow: How has your research impacted the way you instruct your students?                     

Risko: Research has always played an integral role in how I approach teaching, both in the classroom and the laboratory. New discoveries offer opportunities to recall fundamental lessons that we cover in our courses and being able to show these connections helps to demonstrate why emphasis is placed on understanding these foundational concepts.

UKNow: What would you tell someone who is thinking about joining the research enterprise at UK?

Risko: At UK, we have distinct opportunities to collaborate with colleagues across campus and excellent student researchers that will allow your research to move in directions that you may have never imagined.

Chad Risko, Rebekah Duke and Vinayak Bhat
(From left:) Computational chemist Chad Risko and graduate research assistants Rebekah Duke and Vinayak Bhat walk together in the Center for Applied Energy Research discussing ExpFlow. Jeremy Blackburn, Research Communications.

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