Watt W. Webb
Election Year: 1995
Primary Section: 29, Biophysics and Computational Biology
Secondary Section: 33, Applied Physical Sciences
Membership Type: Member
An eclectic trajectory through science and technology lead me to biological physics research along a pathway through problems in condensed matter physics including fluctuations in mesoscopic materials, critical phenomena and turbulence, quantum and hard superconductors (when superconductors were cold), ideal crystals and their defects, and heterogeneous chemical kinetics. It began with welding engineering in an industrial laboratory whose programs I came to direct before moving to academia where I have discovered the usefulness of my undergraduate MIT business administration degree for coping with modern professorial duties. My penchant for impossible experiments has motivated a series of instrumentation innovations beginning with one-dimensional superconductors and a superconducting femtovolt multimeter, optical measurement of turbulent vorticity, fluorescence correlation spectroscopy of chemical kinetics of a few molecules at thermal equilibrium, nanometer location and tracking of individual macromolecules and nanometer microinterferometry in living tissues and picoNewton measurements of forces between individual molecules. Most recently we have created a non-linear laser microscopy with accompanying micropharmacology utilizing molecular excitation by simultaneous absorption of two or three photons. We are developing its capabilities with the help of ultrafast optics. Technology transfer has become a fascinating accompaniment to these innovations. Currently my biophysical research includes problems of anomalous molecular mobility and intermolecular forces on biological cells, non-linear dynamics in second messenger signaling and secretion mechanisms. Molecular photophysics of tissue is a very recent interest that is prompted by measurements made possible by our non-linear optical technology.