Molecular Physics

UD computer simulations reveal three-body effects involving hydrogen bonds in water clusters and liquid water [credit: Science].
Two-dimensional infrared spectroscopy in DeCamp Lab reveals vibrational coupling in molecules and their transient structure.

Molecular Physics studies properties of molecules and of the chemical bonds between atoms that bind them.  The field is integral part of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical research,  and overlaps greatly with theoretical chemistry, physical chemistry,  and chemical physics, as well as with recent efforts in biological physics. Its most important experimental techniques are the various types of spectroscopy.

For example, X-rays are very short wavelength light rays with two important differences from ordinary light: They can penetrate ordinary matter and reveal the interiors of solid objects and they can resolve very small objects, down to single atoms. X rays were used to reveal the double helix shape of the DNA molecule, which encodes the genetic information for all living things. The new X-ray laser tools of 2010 and beyond will help scientists understand, manipulate, and exploit the molecular universe.

Some of the frontier research problems of molecular physics are:

  • Can we predict properties of molecular crystals and liquids (such as water) from first principles?
  • What makes the molecules in all living organisms so efficient at carrying out particular tasks?
  • Can we design other molecules to be as efficient as the ones that nature has optimized?
  • What makes certain materials effective catalysts in chemical reactions or gives them the remarkable ability to capture sunlight efficiently and turn it into chemical energy?

Research Areas:

See also the Website of Atomic and Optical Physics.

Theory & Computation: