From photosynthesis to fuel: Renowned chemist to discuss research

One of the world's foremost authorities on ultrafast interactions among molecules in liquids, solids and solutions will deliver this year’s W. Heinlen Hall Lecture Series at the University.

Dr. Graham R. Fleming, the Melvin Calvin Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, has focused his career on the study of condensed-phase dynamics using a combination of ultrafast spectroscopy, analytical theory and simulation methods to reveal the underlying microscopic behavior of complex systems in chemistry and biology.

"He has consistently invented new experimental methods and applied them to important problems, revealing new types of information and opening up new fields of inquiry," says UC Berkeley chemistry professor David Chandler.

At BGSU, he will deliver the following lectures, each in 123 Overman Hall:

• Monday, July 21: “Ultrafast Spectroscopy: Lasers, Wavepackets and Solvation,” 3:30-4:30 p.m.
• Tuesday, July 22: “Nonlinear Spectroscopy: Especially Photon Echoes,” 3:30-4:30 p.m.
• Wednesday, July 23: “Photosynthesis: The Primary Steps and Their Regulation,” 3:30-4:30 p.m.
• Thursday, July 24: “Multidimensional Spectroscopy: Landscapes and Quantum Dynamics,” 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Fleming points out that the underlying microscopic behavior of biological systems is generally hidden from sight in most conventional spectroscopic measurements. "One of the major goals of my group," he says, "is to develop new experimental methods and the theoretical means to analyze them, which provide detailed pictures of the interactions, dynamical pathways and quantum effects that give rise to, for example, the exquisite efficiency of photosynthetic light harvesting."

The lessons learned from natural photosynthesis can play a critical role in designing synthetic photosynthetic devices, Fleming notes. He says a major objective of his group over the next few years will be to put these ideas to practical application.

The ultimate goal is to develop artificial photosynthesis that would provide humanity with clean, efficient and sustainable energy. Fleming was instrumental in developing a proposal by UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois to explore the science and technology of biofuels production. The proposal was selected this year by oil giant BP to receive $500 million in funding over 10 years.

Fleming received a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of London in 1974 and completed various research fellowships before joining the University of Chicago, where he taught for 18 years. The British-born scientist has been on the Berkeley campus since 1997. Also a fellow of the Royal Society in England, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in May 2007.

In addition, Fleming serves as director of the UC Berkeley branch of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, one of four California Institutes for Science & Innovation created by the state in 2000. For more on his research, visit

The lectureship was created by the chemistry department in 1975 to honor Dr. W. Heinlen Hall, a professor of chemistry from 1936-76 who, as chair of the department until 1971, led it through extraordinary growth and expansion. The weeklong series, which has drawn acclaimed scholars and leading research chemists, allows students and faculty to learn from and interact with cutting-edge investigators at the frontiers of chemistry research.

July 14, 2008