Scott Bembenek

Scott Damian Bembenek grew up in the small town of Delavan, Wisconsin (population of approximately 5,000 at that time). Scott’s passion for science began around the age of five. Throughout his childhood, “science” took on a variety of forms, involving such things as batteries, circuits, magnets, anything electronic, insects, frogs, toads, salamanders, turtles, fish, etc. He conducted new “experiments” on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, much to the astonishment of his (exceptionally patient) mother.

Scott attended Carroll College (now Carroll University) in Waukesha, Wisconsin. There he further pursued his interest in chemistry, especially organic chemistry. However, by the end of his third year it was clear that his real interest was physical chemistry, a more theoretical, less laboratory-intensive version of chemistry. Indeed, Scott’s skills weren’t in the laboratory, which should have been clear to him much sooner since the laboratory portion of classes always brought down his grade – unlike for his fellow students. During this time his interest in physics grew. In his last year in college, Scott was fortunate to be able to take graduate-level classes and conduct research in physics under the direction of his advisor, as part of a self-designed curriculum toward a BS in chemistry and physics, which he received in 1993. 

Scott did his graduate work at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where he investigated the dynamics of complex liquid systems using computer simulations and theoretical techniques. His work on supercooled liquids and glasses remains well cited even today. Scott received his PhD with honors in 1997 in theoretical chemical physics. 

Thereafter, he was awarded a National Research Council Fellowship and joined the Army Research Laboratory in Aberdeen, MD. There he used computational and theoretical techniques to study the dynamics of explosives. Scott pioneered a new approach to parameterizing interaction potentials necessary for accurate computer simulations. His work was well recognized, and upon the completion of his fellowship, he was immediately offered a full-time position. However, Scott had other plans.

Intent on pursuing a career in academia, Scott took a research associate position (and a 50% salary cut) at Colorado State University. While computer simulations once again played a role in his work, the majority of his time at the office involved “old-school, paper-and-pencil” theoretical physics on fluid systems. In fact, his paper A Kinetic Theory for Dilute Dipolar Systems required more than 300 pages of derivations! When his term at Colorado State was finishing up after two years, he began looking for permanent employment. He attended a recruiting session at the university held by Johnson & Johnson that gave an overview of the drug discovery research at its San Diego site and potential employment opportunities. Although scheduled for an interview the following day, he had intended to pass on the opportunity. Some wise advice from a friend convinced him otherwise. 

Currently, he is a Principal Scientist in the Computer-Aided Drug Discovery group at Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development in San Diego, CA, where he has worked since 2002. During his time there, he has made substantial contributions to numerous drug discovery projects and has worked in a variety of disease areas. 

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