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Laser blasts will reveal structures and dynamics of molecules in the fastest events in nature

Posted on 29 October 2003

A new £2 million Research Centre at the University of York will provide unprecedented information on how molecules change, helping scientists understand the structure and dynamics of liquids, proteins and even our DNA.

The York Centre for Laser Spectroscopy and Photochemistry opened today (29 October 2003), will use ultra-short laser light pulses to tear molecules apart by ripping out electrons. These pulses, which operate on a ‘Femtosecond', are the most powerful tools for observing the world of atoms, molecules, liquids, new nanomaterials and building blocks of biological structures.

‘Femtoscience' as this area of chemistry is known, uses laser pulses to study the fastest events in nature. A femtosecond is a period so inconceivably short that a hydrogen molecule completes only one-eighth of a vibration in that time. Such is the speed of change in molecules, however, that this tiny fraction of time can reveal important information. It could reveal, for example, exactly how molecules affect mutations in genetic material.

The Centre will be opened by the University's Chancellor, Dame Janet Baker. Guests will include Professor Eberhard Riedle from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat, Munich, Professor Albert Stolow from the National Research Council of Canada Steacie Institute, Ottawa, Professor Masaaki Fuji from Tokyo Tech, Yokohama, and Professor Dan Neumark from the University of California, Berkeley.

The new research centre is led by Professor Klaus Muller-Dethlefs in the Department of Chemistry at York. "The investment in this Centre shows the University's determination to be pre-eminent in internationally competitive research," he said. "We have a world-class facility here which could yield some interesting surprises."

Professor Robin Perutz, Head of the Department of Chemistry said: "We're delighted to welcome such eminent scientists from Germany, Canada, Japan and the USA for the opening of this research centre. Laser spectroscopy and Photochemistry has long been of strategic importance to the Chemistry Department and a cornerstone in its interdisciplinary efforts. This Centre provides us with world class equipment and an excellent infrastructure to be internationally competitive in exciting new science."

Notes to editors:

  • The Department of Chemistry has a research rating of 5, signifying work of international importance. It has 110 teaching and research staff, 150 postgraduate and 450 undergraduate students.
  • The York Centre for Laser Spectroscopy and Photochemistry has two new high-power Spitfire femtosecond/picosecond regenerative amplifiers which are used to obtain tunable ultra-short laser pulses in the visible, ultraviolet and infrared regions of the optical spectrum.
  • One femtosecond is a 1/1000,000,000,000,000 of a second.

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153