David N. Beratan

David N. Beratan

Fellow: Awarded 1999
Field of Study: Chemistry

Competition: US & Canada

Education: University of Pittsburgh

David Beratan is the R. J. Reynolds Professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Physics at Duke University. He has established a molecular-level theory that describes the rate of charge tunneling reactions in biomolecules, thus establishing the theoretical underpinnings for biological energy capture and conversion processes. He has also developed theoretical methods to assign the absolute handedness—or chirality—of complex natural products, and he is developing theoretical methods to navigate the vastness of “molecular space,” in order to discover promising new structures of use in biomedical, energy, and materials science.

David received a bachelor of science degree from Duke University and a Ph.D. from Caltech. At Caltech, he established the first successful atomic-resolution theories for electron tunneling in small molecules. While a National Research Council Resident Research Associate at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (and later a member of the Technical staff), David established two independent research directions. He formulated a practical approach to predict charge transfer reaction rates in biomolecules, and he established a scheme to optimize the optical, electronic, and optoelectronic properties of organic compounds. His “tunneling pathway” model for biological electron transfer remains in wide use to determine the relationship between molecular structure and function for these reactions of crucial importance in bioenergetics. His design principles for optimizing the nonlinear optical response of organic materials continue to guide synthesis and spectroscopy in this field.

In 1992, David moved to the University of Pittsburgh as Associate Professor of Chemistry; he was promoted to the rank of Professor in 1997. At Pittsburgh, he became deeply involved in bringing modern technology to the classroom for teaching physical chemistry. David became the R. J. Reynolds Professor at Duke in 2001, where he served as Chair of Chemistry from 2004 to 2007. At Duke, David’s group has established new approaches to exploring the vast structural diversity of molecular space and he has established a unified framework to describe unimolecular and intermolecular charge transfer in proteins and nucleic acids. His current research focuses on challenges in solar energy capture, biological electron transfer, the control of charge flow in small molecules, and molecular library design.

David has been a visiting Professor at All Souls College—University of Oxford, Conrad E. Ronneberg Visiting Scholar – University of Chicago, and Ralph and Lucy Hirschmann Visiting Professor—University of Pennsylvania. He has received the National Science Foundation National Young Investigator award, is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

David has published more than 175 research papers and has produced one film. He has presented over 200 invited lectures internationally and serves on three editorial advisory boards.


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