Professor Jan Verlet FRSC
Winner: 2021 Corday-Morgan Prize
For the development and application of novel spectroscopic methods to probe the fundamental physical chemistry underpinning electron-molecule reactions.
Celebrate Professor Jan Verlet
Research in the Verlet group focuses on developing a fundamental understanding of how molecules respond when they absorb light or electrons, and how electrons solvate at interfaces. The group has developed novel methods to probe excited state dynamics of anions on the femtosecond timescale and has pioneered the study of electron-driven chemistry using photoelectron spectroscopy, which has enabled such chemistry to be probed in real time.
While the group addressed questions of a fundamental nature, the understanding gained underpins many processes in science and technology ranging from the formation of molecules in the interstellar medium (the material that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy) to electron transport chains in biology to plasma etching processes in the semiconductor industry.Read winner biography
Jan Verlet was born in Leuven, Belgium, and studied chemistry at King’s College London before completing his PhD at the same institution in 2003, under the supervision of Professor Helen Fielding. He then went to work in the group of Professor Dan Neumark at the University of California at Berkeley, before returning to the UK in 2006 as Lecturer and EPSRC Advanced Research Fellow at Durham University.
In 2012, Professor Verlet was awarded an ERC grant and was promoted to full professor in 2016. He has served as chair of the RSC’s Spectroscopy and Dynamics special interest group, has been a Fellow of the RSC since 2016, was a JILA visiting Fellow in 2019, and has been co-editor of International Reviews in Physical Chemistry since 2018.
The Verlet group focuses on developing and employing state-of-the-art methods aimed at understanding various aspects of excited state processes in molecular anions in the gas phase, at the water/air interface, and in solution.
How did you first become interested in chemistry?
By chance really – I always liked science at school and so I chose chemistry at university. I can’t say I was a big fan of organic chemistry, but physical chemistry hit a chord. However, I really got the bug when I had the chance to work in a research lab in my final year of my MSci. I enjoyed the notion of working at answers to unknowns. But most of all, I had a lot of fun in the basement labs of King’s College.
What motivates you?
There is not much motivation needed when you genuinely enjoy what you do. I do like the unknown and most of our best work has simply come from trying out an experiment and scratching our heads for a time to try to figure out what we have seen. Sometimes it culminates in a eureka moment and that is a real motivator. Sadly, this is not how science is funded.
What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in chemistry?
Keep on asking the seemingly simple questions… you’ll be surprised how often we do not know the answer.
Why is chemistry important?
That’s an easy one: useful stuff is made of molecules and molecules = chemistry.
What has been a highlight for you (either personally or in your career)?
Working with a diverse and brilliant set of students and postdocs. I very much view science as a team sport and working in a group makes everything not just more fun, but also much more worthwhile.
What has been a challenge for you (either personally or in your career)?
What is your favourite element?
Hydrogen. So simple, yet it powers the sun, explodes, offers a way out of the climate fiasco, is a key element of essentially every molecule, and makes a rather interesting anion.