Issue Date: January 7, 2008
Ahmed Zewail Award in Ultrafast Science & Technology
Sponsored by the Ahmed Zewail Endowment Fund established by Newport Corp.
Graham R. Fleming, a professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, is widely considered to be one of the world's foremost authorities on ultrafast interactions among molecules in liquids, solids, and solutions.
Fleming's career has focused on the study of condensed-phase dynamics using a combination of ultrafast spectroscopy, analytical theory, and simulation methods to reveal the underlying microscopic behavior of complex systems in chemistry and biology.
"He has consistently invented new experimental methods and applied them to important problems, revealing new types of information and opening up new fields of inquiry," says UC Berkeley chemistry professor David Chandler. "In particular, he has led the way in developing new nonlinear optical techniques for ultrafast dynamics, in each case, providing a deep analysis of the information content of the technique and demonstrating the technique by applying it to an important problem."
Fleming points out that the underlying microscopic behavior of biological systems is generally hidden from sight in most conventional spectroscopic measurements. "One of the major goals of my group," he says, "is to develop new experimental methods and the theoretical means to analyze them, which provide detailed pictures of the interactions, dynamical pathways, and quantum effects that give rise to, for example, the exquisite efficiency of photosynthetic light harvesting."
One such method recently developed by Fleming's research group at UC Berkeley is two-dimensional Fourier transform electronic spectroscopy with femtosecond time resolution. "This technique enabled us to demonstrate clearly the role of quantum coherence in a photosynthetic light-harvesting complex for the first time," he remarks.
"The quantum aspect of the energy migration effectively allows multiple possibilities to be 'investigated' simultaneously and thus, in analogy to algorithms for quantum computing, enables the result, in this case the final trap for the excitation, to be found more efficiently than in a classical search," Fleming explains.
The lessons learned from natural photosynthesis can play a critical role in designing synthetic photosynthetic devices, Fleming notes. He says a major objective of his group over the next few years will be to put these ideas to practical application.
The ultimate goal is to develop artificial photosynthesis that would provide humanity with clean, efficient, and sustainable energy. Fleming was instrumental in developing a proposal by UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and the University of Illinois to explore the science and technology of biofuels production that was selected this year by oil giant BP to receive $500 million in funding over 10 years.
Fleming received a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of London in 1974 and completed various research fellowships prior to joining the University of Chicago in 1979, where he taught for 18 years. The British-born scientist has been on the Berkeley campus since 1997 and is currently the Melvin Calvin Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society in England and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in May 2007.
In addition, Fleming serves as director of the UC Berkeley branch of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, one of four California Institutes for Science & Innovation created by the state in 2000.
Fleming will present the award address before the Division of Physical Chemistry.
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