Pate named MacArthur Fellow
By Fariss Samarrai
phone call came out of the blue for Brooks Pate, a professor of
at U.Va. The voice on the other end came from the John D. and
Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, notifying Pate that he was
one of 23 scholars nationwide to be named a MacArthur Fellow,
an honor that comes with $500,000 in no-strings-attached support
over the next five years. Pate said he will put his windfall back
into his work, which he said is at the forefront of a new
is one of nine scientists selected this year to receive the so-called
genius grants, and the only Virginian among the 23
recipients in total, whose ranks also include musicians, artists,
novelists and historians.
is using lasers to redefine scientists understanding of
molecular structure, and creating a process whereby scientists
will be able to take over the structure of molecules by manipulating
their atoms. Pate probes molecules with a spectroscope (a laser
instrument that measures molecules), teasing out their basic reactive
properties. Although spectroscopy is a relatively known technology,
Pate has blasted through technical and conceptual hurdles previously
thought insurmountable. He also has revealed new insights into
chemical reactions of molecules excited by high-energy light.
work is showing that the models of molecule structure of the past
40 years need to be rethought, he said. The work has
implications for many areas of chemistry, including efficient
methods to make specialty molecules, like pharmaceuticals, that
minimize chemical waste.
who will continue to teach, said he plans to use the award to
develop more specialized equipment for his studies and for salary
support and fellowships for his graduate students.
love working in the classroom as well as in the lab, he
said, and it was a wonderful surprise for me and for my
students to win this fellowship. We have worked very hard in this
lab to produce important and novel findings, and this award confirms
that our work is being noticed.
team is finding that molecules do not exist in the seemingly fixed
form previously believed. It now appears that the atoms are in
a constant state of flux at any given moment, which may mean that
chemists will be able to make alterations in their structure,
possibly resulting in the ability to customize molecules for a
variety of purposes.
research brings us closer to realizing the long-anticipated promise
of laser technology for unprecedented control of chemical reactions,
the MacArthur Foundation said in its announcement. His results
represent important steps toward a better understanding of high-energy
chemistry. The foundation added that Pate has revitalized
this branch of physical chemistry.
received his B.S. in 1987 from U.Va. He earned a Ph.D. in 1992
from Princeton University, then became a National Research Council
Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Institute for Standards and
Technology in Gaithersburg, Md. He joined U.Va.s chemistry
faculty in 1993.
awards include a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (1996),
the Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (1998), and the Coblentz
There is no application or interview process for the MacArthur
comes via a phone call. It is the first and only call we
make to them, and it can be life-changing, says Daniel Socolow,
the foundations fellows program director.
important underpinning of the program is the foundations
confidence that the fellows are in the best position to decide
how to make the most effective use of their awards. The foundation
neither requires nor expects specific projects from the fellows,
nor does it ask for reports on how the money is used.
this years group, 611 fellows have been named since the
program began in 1981, ranging in age from 18 to 82.
former U.Va. faculty members have held MacArthur Fellowships.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writer James Alan McPherson
was a member of the English faculty in 1981 when he received a
MacArthur fellowship. The noted philosopher Richard Rorty was
already a MacArthur Fellow when he came to U.Va. in 1983.