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Analytical Chemistry

E. Bright Wilson Award in Spectroscopy

January 8, 2007 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 85, ISSUE 2

Fayer
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Credit: Courtesy of Michael D. Fayer
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Credit: Courtesy of Michael D. Fayer

Susan Morrissey

Like many future chemists, Michael D. Fayer, David Mulvane Ehrsam & Edward Curtis Franklin Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University, got his start in the field by experimenting with pyrotechnics as a child. He was further intrigued by chemistry when he got interested in photography as a teenager. But it wasn't until college that he found his calling studying the physics of molecular systems.

Decades later, Fayer has a highly successful career studying molecular and chemical problems using nonlinear optical techniques, such as transient gratings, photon echoes, and vibrational echoes. It is for developing and applying these nonlinear techniques to molecular dynamics and excitation transport in complex condensed matter system that he is being honored.

"It is a great honor to have my work recognized and to have the impact on chemistry of my developments of ultrafast nonlinear optical spectroscopy appreciated," Fayer says. "I feel that this award is a tribute to the brilliant graduate students and postdocs I have had over many years who are responsible for the successful research emanating from the Fayer labs."

Called a world leader in the field of condensed-phase spectroscopy and dynamics, Fayer has made lasting, seminal contributions to the microscopic descriptions of complex molecular liquids, glasses, and proteins. He has published more than 350 papers on his research, which, according to a colleague, has "in many ways changed the way we study and think about complex organic matter."

Since the late 1970s, Fayer has been developing the transient grating technique to measure dynamics in molecular systems, such as excitation and exciton transport; acoustic and thermal phenomena; and orientational relaxation in supercooled liquids, liquid crystals, and lipid bilayers. This method has become the most widely used nonlinear optical technique in chemistry.

Another key area of research for Fayer is photon echo experiments, which he used to demonstrate in detail the relationship between optical dephasing and hole burning in amorphous materials. This work served as the basis for the new field of characterizing the structural dynamics of amorphous and biological materials over timescales ranging from picoseconds to hours.

Perhaps Fayer's most important single research accomplishment came about a decade ago, when his lab did the first ultrafast infrared vibrational echo experiment. The group recently expanded its research in this area to two-dimensional vibrational echo chemical-exchange studies of complex formation and molecular isomerization.

"Fayer is one of the most creative and innovative researchers in experimental condensed matter physical chemistry today," says colleague Mostafa A. El-Sayed, a chemistry professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. "In large part due to his work, ultrafast nonlinear and coherent spectroscopic techniques such as transient gratings and photon echoes are now used everywhere and have become the most powerful techniques for studying fast molecular processes."

Fayer, 59, received a B.S. degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1969. He continued on there to earn a Ph.D. in 1974. He joined the faculty at Stanford in 1974 and rose through the ranks to his current position. Among his honors is the 2000 Earl K. Plyler Prize for Molecular Spectroscopy.

The award address will be presented before the Division of Physical Chemistry.

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