2023 Winner of The Journal of Physical Chemistry C and PHYS Division Lectureship Award

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Prof. Justin Caram

Professor Justin Caram is one of three investigators chosen for 2023 The Journal of Physical Chemistry and PHYS Division Lectureship Awards.

The Journal of Physical Chemistry and PHYS Division Lectureship Awards honor the contributions of investigators who have made a major impact on the field of physical chemistry in the research areas associated with each section of the journal – The Journal of Physical Chemistry AThe Journal of Physical Chemistry B, and The Journal of Physical Chemistry C.

Caram was chosen for The Journal of Physical Chemistry C Award, which honors an investigator in the areas of energy, materials, and catalysis.

A physical chemist, Caram joined the UCLA faculty in 2017. His expertise includes biophysics, materials, nanoscience and bioenergy and the environment. His research leverages the detection, sorting and timing of individual photons to unravel complex chemical processes and energy flow in nanomaterial and biological systems.

Professor Basile Curchod (University of Bristol) was chosen for The Journal of Physical Chemistry A Award and Professor Konrad Meister (Boise State University) for The Journal of Physical Chemistry B Award. The awards will be presented at ACS Fall 2023 meeting taking place in August in San Francisco, where the winners will be invited to speak as part of the PHYS division programing.

Interviews with the winners about their research and their hopes for future advances in physical chemistry was recently published in acsAxial, the ACS Publications Blog.

Excerpt from acsAxial (By William Aumiller):

Justin Caram

Winner, The Journal of Physical Chemistry C Award

What inspired you to pursue your area of research?

I am fascinated by the limits and extremes of chemical physics. Questions like- “What is the reddest emissive chromophore”, and “what is the narrowest electronic absorption linewidth” have become central themes in my research program. Pursuing these requires the flexibility afforded by chemical training, a willingness to make new materials and build new instruments to study them. Since I have a short attention span, these types of questions let me jump between spectroscopy, synthesis and theory, hopefully communicating some useful general principles to the world.

What advances has your lab made in the past five years?

Over the last 5 years we’ve made strides in a number of complementary directions. We have tried to understand the limits of quantum yields of short-wave infrared (SWIR, 1000-2000 nm) organic chromophores, and find ways to overcome these limits through molecular aggregation and transition dipole moment coupling. In that goal we have worked to better understand the structure (and resultant excitonic bands) of 2D and tubular chromophore aggregates hopefully helping researchers to better categorize photophysics of these materials. In parallel, we have also explored 2D semiconductor nanoplatelets (NPLS), which can be synthesized to interact with light across the visible and SWIR spectral windows. Here we are working on developing devices derived from “mesoscale” colloidal NPLs, whose extent exceeds 1 micron and can be manipulated in analogy to more conventional 2D materials.

Finally, we are working on developing chemical intuition on molecular analogs to atomic qubits, systems which can undergo state-preparation via photon scattering. Using alkaline earths radicals and lanthanides we hope to bridge physics and chemistry communities to develop “quantum functional groups.” All of these efforts are united by spectroscopic efforts which seek to time/energy resolve all emitted photons from a molecular/material system, as a probe of its underlying Hamiltonian. Here we have developed shortwave infrared photodetection schemes and adapted interferometric methods to study photoluminescence.

What’s next for your research?

We are really excited about the possibility to make molecular analogs to atomic vapor cells by developing “ultranarrow” linewidth molecules and materials.We hypothesize that we can leverage chemistry tools (like solubility and molecular recognition) to build accessible quantum devices amenable to room temperature state preparation and readout. Along similar lines, we are on the hunt for new materials which are emissive well-beyond the bandgap of silicon. We think we can get there using better control over the vibronic and photonic environment of chromophores to access highly unusual photophysics. Finally, I hope to develop invert the spectroscopic study of molecular chromophore aggregates into general probes self-assembly in molecular and crystalline contexts. Can we better control crystallization if we can measure it in real time?

What physical chemistry problems are you hoping to see solved in the next decade?

I think there has to be a way to slow down thermalization in complex molecular systems. We have decades of research into intramolecular vibrational energy relaxation (IVR), but we have not tried extensively to invert the problem, designing systems that pathologically avoid dissipating energy and information into their baths. I hope that physical chemists find ways to leverage molecular, photonic, solvent and even vacuum degrees of freedom to control energy/information flow at a quantum mechanical level, avoiding the tyranny of thermodynamic equilibration.

Read the full article here.

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.