Travel Notes: Electrons, Pyramids, and Camels

Thursday, August 27, 2009
Travel Notes: Electrons, Pyramids, and Camels

The quest for understanding often leads physics researchers and students to the far corners of the world. This summer, Horacio Carias, graduate student at Duke Physics, spent five weeks in Cyprus and Israel studying electron tunneling. He participated in an international symposium, spent untold hours doing research, and still found time to ride a camel and visit the Pyramids.

Carias, a third-year graduate student at Duke, is working on an interdisciplinary research thesis in theoretical and computational chemical physics. He is studying electron movement, particularly a process called electron tunneling. Carias’ thesis advisor is Prof. David Beratan, the R. J. Reynolds Professor of Chemistry at Duke. However, his research and degree coursework are through the physics department. His research could lead to new technology. “The most promising applications,” says Carias, “appear to be in artificial photosynthesis for solar energy conversion and molecular switches in a new generation of computers.”

Beratan suggested that Carias go to Cyprus in June to work with one of their collaborators—Spiros Skourtis at the University of Cyprus at Nicosia, a leading center for electron transfer research. As Carias was preparing for the trip, Beratan suggested that he leave earlier in order to attend an symposium at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

The symposium, “Electron Transfer and Transmission—New Aspects,” was attended by about two dozen physicists, giving Carias the opportunity to interact closely with leaders in the field.

In Cyprus, Carias worked 12-hour days analyzing his data with mentoring from Skourtis. However, he did find time to enjoy the sights. On a quick trip to Egypt, Carias rode a camel to the Pyramids and the Sphinx. He was also able to enjoy the tourist spots of Cyprus and ancient Greece.

“Being in Cyprus and working closely with Spiros allowed me to advance my research more than I would have staying here at Duke,” Carias says. “I definitely became more enthusiastic about the field.