Daniel P. Aalberts, assistant professor of physics at Williams College, has been named the recipient of the Research Corporation’s Cottrell College Science Award. The $37,500 prize will be used in support of his research on quantum coherent dynamics of photoactive molecules. One application of the research is optical computer memories; another is how it illuminates quantum mechanics (the physics theory that describes electrons).
“Photoactive molecules absorb light and then change shape incredibly quickly and efficiently,” said Aalberts.
“For example, the photoactive molecule retinal response for human vision changes shape in 0.2 trillionths of a second with 67 percent efficiency. The fantastic speed and efficiency are both unsolved puzzles.”
Assisting Aalberts in his research are Williams students Benjamin Cooper, a sophomore from Nikayuna, NY and Fritz Stabenau, a sophomore from Scarsdale, NY. Brian Gerke ’99, Ian Eisenman ’99 and Qiang Sun, a senior from the Republic of China, have also assisted him.
Before coming to Williams in 1997, Aalberts was a fellow at the Center for Studies in Physics and Biology at Rockefeller University, where he worked on developing a model of how one of the light-sensing chemicals in the eye (rhodopsin) is transformed when excited by a photon of light.
Aalberts received his B.S. in 1989 and his Ph.D. in 1994 in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He did his postdoctoral work at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.
Founded in 1912 by Frederick Gardner Cottrell, the Research Corporation awards are supported by an endowment from Cottrell’s patent rights as well as by donations from other scientists of their patent rights, including the first antifungal antibiotic, the first genetic invention and synthetic vitamin B1.