Professor of Chemistry
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Age: 37 at time of award
Published September 1, 2005
Todd Martinez is a theoretical chemist who seeks to explain and predict complex chemical reactions based on the quantum mechanical properties of the atoms involved in the reaction. His work focuses on describing molecules at excited states, where conventional ground state electronic structure calculations are inadequate to capture the nature of their chemical reactivity. At subatomic scales, the electrons and nuclei do not behave like billiard balls, but rather are intrinsically statistical; when graphed, the probabilities representing possible states of a molecule can appear as familiar shapes. In a class of chemical reactions referred to as "nonadiabatic", graphs of potential energy surfaces form cones and these cones intersect. Martinez develops strategies and algorithms that predict the dynamic evolution of systems having conical intersections. He has created models for photoisomerization in several biochemically important molecules. Photoisomerization is a nonadiabatic process in which a photon triggers a molecule to change its conformation (but not its constituent atoms); among other things, it represents the biophysical basis for vision. By combining effective strategies for computing the quantum mechanical properties of complex molecules with a deep intuition for their underlying chemical behavior, Martinez is revealing fundamental insights into the physical basis for chemical reactions.
Todd Martinez received a B.S. (1989) from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a Ph.D. (1994) from the University of California, Los Angeles. He was a Fulbright Fellow at the Fritz Haber Institute for Molecular Dynamics in Jerusalem and a University of California Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow at UCLA (1994-96). He joined the faculty of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 1996, where he is a professor in the Department of Chemistry and a faculty affiliate in the Theoretical and Computational Biophysics group at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.
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