E. Bright Wilson Award In Spectroscopy | January 12, 2009 Issue - Vol. 87 Issue 2 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 87 Issue 2 | p. 45 | Awards
Issue Date: January 12, 2009

E. Bright Wilson Award In Spectroscopy

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry
Department: ACS News
Credit: Courtesy of Paul Barbara
Credit: Courtesy of Paul Barbara

Sponsored by ACS

Paul F. Barbara, 55, the Richard J. V. Johnson Welch Chair in Chemistry at the University of Texas, Austin, has been named the awardee this year “in recognition of his innovative use of ultrafast transient and single-molecule spectroscopy to elucidate the fundamental dynamical behavior of condensed phase chemical systems.”

Barbara became interested in ultrafast spectroscopy as a graduate student working in physical organic chemistry. “While I was a graduate student, ultrafast spectroscopy was really emerging as a tool,” Barbara says. “I set as my goal as a postdoc to apply ultrafast spectroscopy to develop a molecular understanding of structure and dynamics during chemical transformations.”

One of Barbara’s key contributions has been the development of a variant of ultrafast spectroscopy for studying solution dynamics. “Barbara’s research on ultrafast electron transfer reactions is among the most important in this field,” says Mostafa A. El-Sayed, the Julius Brown Chair and Regents Professor at Georgia Institute of Technology. “His group was the first to observe a clear example of an electron transfer reaction with a rate that is controlled by solvent dynamics, namely the excited-state dynamics of bianthryl.”

Barbara provided the “first and still best experimental test of theoretical predictions of Marcus and Jortner on solvent dynamic effects in electron transfer reactions,” says Kenneth B. Eisenthal, the Mark Hyman Professor of Chemistry at Columbia University.

Barbara’s “work on the solvated electron stands out,” says Graham R. Fleming, Melvin Calvin Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, and director of the Berkeley branch of the California Institute for Quantitative Bioscience. “Earlier work was compromised by the failure to separate preparation and relaxation steps. Paul conceived of an elegant synthesis, pump, and probe approach using three pulses. His beautiful results have become a benchmark against which theories and simulations of quantum dynamics in water are tested.”

Another area in which Barbara has made significant contributions is single-molecule spectroscopy of conjugated polymers that conduct electricity. “They’re highly disordered because they’re polymers with many different molecular conformations in a sample,” Barbara says. “We figured out a way to look at one molecule at a time and developed an understanding of the total system by putting the information together from the individual molecules.”

Barbara received a B.A. from Hofstra University in 1974. He received a Ph.D. in chemistry from Brown University in 1978, where he worked with Ronald G. Lawler. Following a postdoctoral stint at Bell Laboratories with Peter M. Rentzepis and Louis E. Brus, he joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota in 1980, rising through the ranks to become the 3M-Alumni Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. In 1998, he moved to UT Austin, where he now is a chemistry professor and director of the Center for Nano & Molecular Science & Technology.

Barbara was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 1999. In 2003, he was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And in 2006, he was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

He will present his award address before the Division of Physical Chemistry.

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