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Kevin Theisen presenting
Kevin Theisen


Kevin created ChemDoodle, a computer software tool for drawing chemical structures, becoming director of his own company at 27 years old.

Kevin developed his flagship chemistry software, ChemDoodle, while he was still an undergraduate at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Now, at the age of 27, he is the director of his own company, iChemLabs, and is using his experience to help foster interest in chemical programming and encourage young people to engage with chemistry in new and exciting ways.

A love of chemistry and computer programming

ChemDoodle screen featuring a reaction mechanism, condenser, bunsen burner, buckyball, molecule showing orbitals and NMR spectra (clockwise from lh top)Kevin always had an interest in chemistry, but as an undergraduate he struggled to see how he could apply his interest in a meaningful way. It was only once he discovered a talent for computer programming that he was finally able to “interface and experiment with chemistry in ways that were incredibly rewarding”. 

Kevin’s first foray into the world of chemistry programming was through creating programs to predict relationships between structures and NMR spectra. He was surprised to find that these programs could do a better job than him, even after only a few months of development, and he began to wonder what else he could “get a computer to discover”.

Teaching himself

From there, Kevin worked hard to combine his two great interests, and has had great success with ChemDoodle, an affordable software package that allows users to draw chemical structures and predict their spectra, all through an intuitive, attractive user interface. But the route to Kevin’s success wasn’t simple, and he highlights a lack of academic programmes that focus on chemistry and programming as a major hurdle.

“A large part of my development involved researching topics on my own and teaching myself how to work with chemistry on computers. Most of the time I did my best to creatively build solutions; there were no answer sheets or faculty to consult with about how to solve these problems.”

Preconference workshop with senior developer Joe Polak - participants working on laptops.

Kevin sees chemistry as “one of the harder areas to find your niche.”

“When we think of chemistry, we think about huge laboratories and beakers with liquid in them, but the fact is there are so many ways to engage chemistry beyond this stereotype.”

Kevin’s own story is proof that in today’s world, a career in chemistry definitely doesn’t always mean a life spent in the lab.

For students who aren’t sure how they can participate in chemistry, Kevin’s advice is to consider how chemistry fits with their other interests, as he did with programming. Not only will this provide exciting opportunities for students, but it will also be a great benefit to the chemical community.  

“The more diversity we have in the people that choose to stay in chemistry, the better off we all are as there will be more creative ideas and solutions.”

Support for others

These days, Kevin’s work varies from managing his team of 10 experts from around the world, to promoting his products at conferences, while still finding time to program. Recently, iChemLabs have begun to fund a monetary award at Rutgers University for “excellence in chemical programming”, an opportunity which Kevin hopes to expand to other universities and students who share the interests of him and his team.

Words by Elizabeth McLoughlin
Images courtesy of Kevin Theisen
Published October 2013

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