Helen Tran is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Toronto and an ASTC IF/THEN Ambassador.

Our Meet the Engineer series features the work of IF/THEN Ambassadors in engineering fields. Each profile shares stories, videos, activities, and free downloads, all designed to inspire girls to pursue STEM. The Works Museum is a proud recipient of an IF/THEN Gender Equity Grant.


Helen is a chemist, but she always thought she would be an artist growing up. Helen loves design, photography, and pottery. She is really interested in making things and figuring out the best way to put things together. When she went to college, she took a chemistry class and was amazed by all the intricate ways of putting molecules together. It reminded her of how architects use simple materials to construct beautiful buildings. This was the turning point for her. Now she can design a brand-new molecule and go into the lab to make it. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out perfectly, but when it does, it is the most amazing feeling in the world.


Helen Tran has spent over a decade curious about the role of design and architecture in chemistry. Like putting together LEGO pieces, Helen connects molecules together to build a larger polymer. How and which of these Lego pieces are connected makes a big impact on the properties of the polymer.


Helen is a Professor of Chemistry, cross-appointed in Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry, at the University of Toronto starting January 2021. Before, she was a scientist at Stanford University and worked on making electronics stretchable and recyclable. She has presented her research all over the world, from San Diego (USA) to the United Kingdom to Korea to Austria. Interacting with scientists and building friendships around the world is one of the most exciting parts of her job. Helen holds a Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry with a Chemical Engineering minor from UC Berkeley. She has over 30 species of plants in her apartment in San Francisco and enjoys biking, interactive art projections, and snow camping.

“Now I consider myself a molecular architect. I guess that’s a type of artist.”

Helen Tran

Learn about our other If/Then Ambassadors:

Ritu Raman  |  Dana Bolles  |  Helen Tran  |  Ana Maria Porras  |  Ciara Sivels  |  Erika Anderson