Prize Recipient


Brian Gerke
Williams College


"For his achievements as an undergraduate student at Williams College and particularly his research entitled, Ultrafast Photoisomerization Dynamics: A Tight-binding Model Applied to Small Alkenes."


Mr. Gerke's senior thesis project at Williams College involved a theoretical treatment of photoisomerization (light-induced shape-change) reactions in conjugated polyene molecules. These reactions are often extraordinarily fast and efficient (e.g., the ultrafast photoisomerization of Rhodopsin, the first step in vertebrate vision), but the striking behavior of these molecules is not fully accounted for in theoretical models. Gerke's research involved the development and implementation of a new dynamical and quantum-mechanical model for ultrafast photoisomerization, which takes into account quantum-mechanical electron correlations that have often been neglected. He performed a full analysis of ethylene, obtaining excellent agreement with the measured photoisomerization timescale, and then extended the analysis to larger molecules. In the summer following his graduation from Williams, he was able to show that the electron correlations should have a significant effect on the dynamics of those molecules. Gerke's work has led to one paper recently submitted to Physical Review A and another in preparation.

Mr. Gerke is now studying Astrophysics at Cambridge University, where he is on a two-year fellowship. He plans to return to the US to begin a Ph.D. program in the fall of 2001.