Fall 2007 Recipients

Dmitry S. Pestov

Dr. Alexei V. Sokolov

Texas A&M University physicists Dmitry S. Pestov and Dr. Alexei V. Sokolov were selected as the inaugural recipients of the Robert S. Hyer Research Award of the Texas Section of the American Physical Society (TSAPS).

The award, presented Friday, Oct. 19, 2007 during a lunch ceremony as part of the two-day Texas Physics 2007 conference held on the Texas A&M campus, annually recognizes a student and his or her advisor for physics research that demonstrates both excellence and potential impact in the relevant scientific community. Each receives a plaque, while the student recipient also merits a $500 prize.

Sokolov, an associate professor of physics at Texas A&M since 2002, and Pestov, a research assistant under Sokolov's mentorship in the Texas A&M Institute of Quantum Studies (IQS) headed by Distinguished Professor of Physics Dr. Marlan O. Scully, were cited for their groundbreaking work as members of a joint Texas A&M IQS-Princeton University team that developed a new approach to detect biochemical molecules in real time using lasers. Their technique relies on an adapted form of coherent Raman spectroscopy and has broad implications for a wide range of industries, ranging from homeland security to health care.

"Your work, among a very competitive group of nominations, has set a wonderful standard of excellence for this award," said Dr. Dwight P. Russell, TSAPS chair and associate professor of physics at Baylor University, in an e-mail informing the pair of their honor.

The group's award-winning research was featured as a technical talk in Friday's Joint Fall Meeting of the TSAPS as well as the Texas Sections of the American Association of Physics Teachers and the Society of Physics Students-Zone 13, held in conjunction with Texas Physics 2007. The talk was but one of several hundred presentations by researchers and educators across Texas and the world, including two Nobel laureates and scientists from top international institutions and research laboratories, in the weekend showcase of global excellence in physics.

"While working on the problem of real-time detection of warfare bioagents, such as Bacillus anthracies [anthrax], we came up with an effective scheme or, rather, a combination of laser pulses that manages to suppress meaningless optical background and pull out the so-called coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS) signal from spores, which can be used as their finger-print," Pestov explained. "Suppression of the background is the major challenge for practical applications of CARS. Our approach turned out to work well even for such 'unfriendly' samples as powders and spores."

The team's research has appeared in a variety of prestigious publications since first being reported in Science last April, earning rave reviews from editorial boards as well as fellow scientists.

"Their experimental demonstration of spore detection is a huge accomplishment," said Dr. Szymon Suckewer, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University and the winner of this year's APS Schawlow Prize. "Here at Princeton, we are very well familiar with this problem, and for a number of years, people kept repeating that spore detection by CARS simply 'can't be done.' Well, now it has been done!"

Pestov pointed out that the technique, which the team refers to as hybrid CARS, can be readily used for many other applications. Chemically-selective imaging (microscopy), non-invasive monitoring of glucose in blood and natural gas spectroscopy are just a few the group currently is investigating.

"This is an important contribution to our FAST CARS project, where the ideas of maximal molecular coherence have found an unexpected payoff in biological warfare detection as well as medical diagnostics and industrial application," Scully noted.

Friday's award presentation was followed by a brief biographical lecture on the award's namesake, Robert S. Hyer, delivered by his grandson. Beyond being the leading founder of Southern Methodist University, Hyer was described as fully dedicated to physics teaching and research -- to the extent that he beat Guglielmo Marconi, long considered the grandfather of wireless communication, to his Nobel Prize-winning discovery by a year, according to evidence detailed in a contemporary newspaper account. Hyer also interacted with Scott & White Hospital in the early days of X-ray technology.

"Receiving an award named after such a distinguished person and scientist has been a truly humbling experience," Sokolov said. "An award given at this level is a huge honor for us. I like to think of it as recognition for Dr. Scully's Institute for Quantum Studies as a whole."

Texas Physics 2007 was sponsored by the Texas A&M Department of Physics and the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy in conjunction with the National Society for Black Physicists, the National Society for Hispanic Physicists and the Forum on Industrial & Applied Physics.

For more information on Pestov and Sokolov's research, visit http://people.physics.tamu.edu/dpestov or http://faculty.physics.tamu.edu/sokol/sokolov.htm.