Kristi Henderson
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Chemistry faculty member receives NSF award for research

Wed, 08/22/2012

LAWRENCE – A University of Kansas chemistry faculty member received the prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation for his research on chemical reactions initiated by light.

Chris Elles, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, received a five-year, $650,000 CAREER Award for his research proposal "Controlling non-adiabatic reaction dynamics in solution: A window on the fundamental details of photochemical reactions." His research will focus on reactions involving technologically important molecular switches activated by light.

With the most recent grant to Elles, 14 of 19 eligible Department of Chemistry faculty members have received the CAREER Award.

Molecular switches are compounds that change color after absorbing light. Elles' research will use lasers to produce very short pulses of light in order to activate the molecules and then take snapshots of the ensuing chemical transformation. The resulting "molecular movies" will help determine key factors affecting the behavior of molecules, Elles said.

Some of the molecules in the study have been specifically developed for next-generation DVDs. This research will help improve the technology of data storage. Elles said more importantly, the research will also give greater understanding of the fundamental details that control any chemical reaction initiated by light.

The project will also include an educational component in which Elles will work with students in the UKanTeach program studying to be high school science teachers. They will collaborate to incorporate the research into high school curriculum. Undergraduates in UKanTeach will join the lab to see how the research is conducted and will help develop new teaching modules based on the interesting behavior of the photo-switches, Elles said.

Elles joined the KU faculty in 2009. He previously served as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Southern California and at Argonne National Laboratory. He received his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2004.

The NSF has existed since 1950 to promote discovery in the sciences and to fund those on the frontier of scientific innovation. The CAREER Award is the most prestigious award for junior faculty given out by the NSF. The NSF CAREER Award supports junior faculty who engage in outstanding research, education and integration of education and research in their academic roles.

The Department of Chemistry is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The College enrolls about two-thirds of KU students and encompasses more than 55 departments, programs, centers, the School of Public Affairs and Administration and the School of the Arts. Nearly half of the students at KU earn their bachelor's degrees from the College. Courses in the College cover hundreds of subjects including history, literature, chemistry, biology, art history, mathematics, anthropology, psychology, foreign language and political science.

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