Studying small molecules has been worth big dollars for Dr. Alexander Tarnovsky this year.
The BGSU chemist, who likens his research to making “a molecular movie,” has received two grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) totaling more than $1.1 million.
A Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER, award has netted Tarnovsky about $689,000 over five years. CAREER grants go to teacher-scholars who are likely to become academic leaders, notes Dr. Michael Ogawa, chair of the chemistry department. His and Tarnovsky’s colleague in chemistry, Dr. Felix Castellano, is a past recipient.
Tarnovsky, who came to Bowling Green in 2005, was also awarded $482,000 by the NSF for a new laser system and other instrumentation for the Ohio Laboratory for Kinetic Spectrometry at BGSU. Ogawa says the equipment upgrade will strengthen the laser facility originally built six years ago by Dr. Michael A.J. Rodgers, an Ohio Eminent Scholar.
“We are going to be even stronger,” says Tarnovsky. “Not many people can perform the experiments we can perform.”
Those experiments involve “mapping the development of chemical reactions,” he explains. A reaction may be slow overall but comprised of extremely fast steps, and “ultrafast” reactions are ultra-efficient, adds Tarnovsky. He uses flashes of laser light 1 trillion times faster than blinking to trigger reactions in the lab.
Processes at the molecular level decide if the reaction will be ultrafast, so he and his research colleagues are studying those events. They hope to learn what makes some reactions so fast and efficient and, beyond that, perhaps how to gain control over the molecular processes. If conditions can be manipulated, he says, so can outcomes, “which can be most useful” in, for example, medical applications.
Tarnovsky’s “using a very advanced technique to understand the nature of chemical bonding,” says Ogawa, calling the work “important studies that will advance our fundamental understanding of chemistry.”