Creative Research Medal
Susanne Ullrich, professor of physics, is advancing innovative applications of time-resolved ultrafast laser spectroscopy to molecular photochemistry. Ullrich and her team study how light, made of particles called photons, interacts with molecules and how these interactions play critical roles. To explore what happens after a molecule absorbs a photon requires observing molecular processes that occur on timescales of a few quadrillionths of a second in real-time. Like stroboscopic photography that uses flashes of light to capture images of high-speed motion, she uses ultrashort bursts of laser light to take a series of “snapshots” of photoinduced molecular behavior. Linking these snapshots into “movies,” she can elucidate the underlying mechanisms. She has conducted experiments on the ability of our building blocks of life, such as nucleobases, to retain their integrity under exposure from the sun’s harmful UV light, and how the light-absorbing parts of the skin pigment eumelanin protect our DNA.