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Janne Savolainen (promotion date: 16 May 2008)

Coherent control of biomolecules

Promotion date: 16 May 2008

Thesis advisor: prof. dr. Jennifer Herek

In the quest for laser control of chemistry, active methods are used, based on manipulating microscopic properties of light-matter interaction. The general goal is to find laser pulse shapes, that will drive reactions to desired products and avoid unwanted products.

An experimental technique involving adaptive femtosecond pulse shaping in a learning loop, is used here to study biologically-relevant functional molecules. Since laser control relies on the coherent nature of the interaction between laser light with molecular quantum systems, we call this coherent control.

In addition to methodological developments, results on complex molecular systems are presented. The power of the chosen approach is demonstrated for complex systems, as the study moves further to functional molecules for artificial photosynthesis and photomedical applications. The details of photophysics of an artificial light-harvesting complex are described, and coherent control of the energy transfer process taking place in this biomimicking light harvester, is realised.

Furthermore, characterisation and control experiments on a photosensitiser for cancer treatment photodynamic therapy, are carried out in detail. All of this leads to new insights into the details behind the function of the biomolecular systems.

What is new in your research?

Since some ten years ago, a lot of experimental work has been generated, that makes use of pulse shaping in an adaptive learning loop. Using these techniques together with new approaches, in studying complex functional molecules such as photosensitisers and light-harvesting complexes, like we do, is new. We use quantum control to learn more about these systems. The novelty of the field as well as the rising of new questions, makes this work very exciting.

Did your background help you with the thesis work?

Indeed it did, since for the experimental part of the work I practically had to build the whole lab from scratch. I already had substantial experience with ultrafast lasers before entering the field of coherent control. Since my masters thesis from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, I was involved in ultrafast spectroscopy.

I am a born experimentalist, one could say. Hence, I consider myself lucky to have been able to spend a lot of time in a dark room and making discoveries, always with the newest technology at hand.

Are you planning to stay in academic research?

I am presently looking at all options, not excluding the possibility of a further academic career. However, in the future I intend to move towards the applications side of research, were it laser technology, spectroscopy, photomedical applications or other techniques.

Perhaps in the future, I can help linking these two sides. I am keen on the applications, but also have a good feel for fundamental research. I would like to communicate about the necessity of basic research to companies, but also learn from them about their specific needs.

I am convinced companies need to invest in fundamental research. They cannot trust on universities, other knowledge centres and short-term projects alone, that they will come up with the right future technologies automatically.

How are you inspired to broaden your view?

In addition to FOM courses like “Being successful in Dutch organisations” and “Business Orientation Week,” I've learned a lot in workshops given by Douglas Robinson who is a PhD-student of professor Arie Rip. As a social scientist and philosopher at the University of Twente, he thinks systematically about topics like: technology assessment, future scenario's of technological developments and the way these are embedded in social structures.

I find it very interesting to look at these aspects of technology, and apply this new language to my own field of research. It brought me to new ideas about my future work and it broadened my view in general. There is more to emerging technologies than merely the fundamental research side. A plethora of other issues plays an important role, and must be considered as well.

How does MESA+ fit into this picture?

As the bulk of my thesis work was done in FOM institute AMOLF, in Amsterdam, my experiences with MESA+ are still limited. However, as a post-doc in the Optical Sciences group I hope to change this.

So far it seems a flat organization with a lot of interaction between the people working in it. A lot of interesting discussions are taking place and generally the atmosphere feels open minded. I like that very much, and hope to make use of it during my stay here at University of Twente.