22 Apr 2008

Polish and German collaborators win Copernicus prize

A Polish physicist and a German chemist who have collaborated over 20 years have won the €50,000 Copernicus prize, set up to foster scientific cooperation between the two countries.

Professor Wolfgang Domcke, a chemist from Munich, and Professor Andrzej Sobolewski, a physicist from Warsaw, have had many years of fruitful cooperation in the fields of the photochemistry and photophysics of biologically molecules.

The prizewinners have, in their own right, and through their cooperation, made a name for themselves in the fields of quantum dynamics and quantum chemistry. Domcke has held the Chair of Theoretical Chemistry at the Technical University of Munich since 1999, while Sobolewski has been a professor at the Institute of Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences since 1991.

Both researchers have cooperated on numerous projects for over 20 years, and published more than 60 joint papers. Together they discovered a mechanism capable of explaining the photostability of DNA, showing the base pairs adenine-thymine and cytosine-guanine possess specific mechanisms that enable them to return to a stable ground state very rapidly after being excited into an unstable state by UV radiation.

The basic processes on which this mechanism is depends take place within a few femtoseconds, or the time it takes light to travel just a fraction of the width of a human hair. The two went ont o show that similar mechanisms also play a role in the photostability of proteins.

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