Kamenetska Won the 2012 Simon Prize

May 14 2012

Photo: Prof. Aron Pinczuk, Dr. Jane Faggen, Prof. Irving Herman, Dr. Maria Kamenestska, and Prof. Latha Venkataraman

The Robert Simon Memorial Prize is awarded annually by the APAM Department to the graduate student who has completed the most outstanding dissertation. Dr. Maria (Masha) Kamenetska was the recipient of this year’s award.

Dr. Kamenetska received a B.S degree in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in May 2005. After graduation, she took a year off traveling and working for a financial software start-up. She started her studies as a Ph.D. student in the APAM Department at Columbia in September 2006 and completed her M.S. degree in February 2008. She joined the lab of Prof. Latha Venkataraman in May 2007 to study electron transport across single molecule-metal junctions.

In her Ph.D. thesis “Single Molecule Junction Conductance and Binding Geometry” Masha addresses the fundamental problem of controlling transport through a metal-organic interface by studying electronic and mechanical properties of single organic molecule-metal junctions. She uses a scanning tunneling microscope to image, probe energy-level alignment and perform break junction measurements on molecules bound to a gold metal surfaces. She demonstrates that control of the conductance of a circuit, which consists of a single molecule attached to two metal electrodes, is possible through a choice of metal-molecule binding chemistry and by sub-nanometer positioning. Masha showed that single gold-molecule-gold junctions formed with pyridine could be used to create a single-molecule switch as these junctions had two distinct conductance values. These experiments points to a new paradigm for attaining reproducible electrical characteristics of metal-organic devices, which involves controlling linker-metal chemistry rather than fabricating identically structured metal-molecule interfaces. By choosing a linker group which is either insensitive to or responds reproducibly to changes in metal-molecule configuration, one can design single molecule devices with functionality more complex than a simple resistor.

While at Columbia, Masha published four first author papers include one in Physical Review Letters, and in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, with members of Prof. Venkataraman’s lab and collaborators and contributed to eight others. In 2011, she was awarded the National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to pursue research at the intersection of physics and biology after graduation. She is currently at Yale University, in the departments of physics and molecular biophysics & biochemistry.

History of the Robert Simon Memorial Prize

The Robert Simon Memorial Prize is awarded annually by the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics to the graduate student who has completed the most outstanding dissertation. Should no graduate student’s dissertation qualify in any given year, the prize may be awarded to either the most outstanding student who has completed a master of science degree in the Department or to the most outstanding graduating senior in the Department. The Department chair in consultation with the Department faculty selects the awardee.

Robert Simon (December 25, 1919–February 11, 2001) received a B.A. degree cum laude in classics from the City College of New York in 1941, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and an M.A. in mathematics from Columbia University in 1949. Between 1941 and 1944, Mr. Simon was a lieutenant in the United States Armed Forces serving in England, France, and Italy. He participated in the D-Day operation as a navigator for a plane that dropped paratroopers in the vicinity of Omaha Beach. General Dwight Eisenhower personally shook his hand and wished him well the night before the D-Day assault.

Mr. Simon, who was born and lived in New York City, spent a lifetime making valuable contributions to the field of computer science. Starting in 1953, he worked for 15 years at Sperry's Univac Division in various capacities including marketing, planning, systems engineering, systems programming, and information services. He also spent a year working at the Fairchild Engine Division as director of the Engineering Computer Group. He personally directed the establishment of several company computer centers at sites throughout the United States. Between 1969 and 1973, he was a partner with American Science Associates, a venture capital firm. Mr. Simon was a founder and vice president of Intech Capital Corporation and served on its board from 1972 to 1981 and a founder and member of the board of Leasing Technologies International, Inc. from 1983 until his retirement in 1995.

The prize was established in 2001 by Dr. Jane Faggen with additional support from friends and relatives of Mr. Simon.