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January 24, 2000

Dean of Natural Sciences to deliver annual faculty research lecture

By Tim Stephens

David Kliger, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and dean of the Division of Natural Sciences, began his research career studying the pigments in the eye that make it possible for animals to see and have color vision. He became a pioneer in the use of extremely fast laser pulses to study how molecules interact with light, and he now heads one of the top laboratories in the world in this field.

Photo of David Kliger
David Kliger
In recognition of his outstanding research accomplishments, Kliger will present UCSC's 34th annual Faculty Research Lecture on Tuesday, February 15, at 8 p.m. in Room B-206 of the Earth and Marine Sciences Building. The title of his talk is "Making Light Work of Biology: Using Lasers to Understand Biomolecules." The talk is free and open to the public.

Kliger joined the UCSC faculty in 1971 and has served as chair of his department, chair of the Academic Senate, and chair of the Committee on Academic Personnel. He was appointed dean of the Division of Natural Sciences in 1990. Despite his administrative duties, he has continued to maintain a very active research laboratory.

Kliger's research career has straddled the boundaries of chemistry, physics, and biology. He has developed new ultrasensitive analytical techniques and has used them to study the chemical structures and functions of a variety of protein molecules.

Fast laser spectroscopy was a new technique when Kliger began his research at UCSC, and he started applying it to his studies of visual pigment proteins. This tool enabled him to analyze the molecular changes that take place in visual pigments when they absorb light. His work has since expanded to include research on a variety of biologically important molecules, including hemoglobin (the pigment in red blood cells), myoglobin (the reddish pigment in muscle), and cytochrome c (an enzyme that aids in the use of oxygen).

In his talk, Kliger will describe in simple terms the latest laser spectroscopy techniques, which measure changes in molecular structures on timescales as short as one-billionth of a second. He will explain how these techniques yield information about the functions of key molecules in important biological processes. As one example of the work he and his research group have done over the years, Kliger will discuss what such studies have revealed about how visual pigment proteins convert light signals entering the eye into electrical signals transmitted to the brain, resulting in vision.

In selecting Kliger as the Faculty Research Lecturer for 1999-2000, the Academic Senate noted that the way proteins change their structure when they react to light and other forces is one of the most active areas of study in science today. "Professor Kliger is a leader in this new subfield, which tries to comprehend how living molecules work at their most basic level," wrote the senate committee that nominated him.

The Academic Senate commended Kliger not only for his research and his service to the campus, but also for his teaching at all levels and his mentoring of over 40 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in his research program.

Kliger received his B.S. in chemistry from Rutgers University and his Ph.D. in chemistry from Cornell University. Before coming to UCSC, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University. He has published about 150 scientific articles and three books.

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