Mathias Weber has known he would become a scientist ever since he was a child. He launched his career with studies in experimental physics at the Universität Kaiserlautern (Germany), where he wrote an undergraduate thesis on the spectra of argon Rydberg atoms. He went on to earn a Ph. D. in experimental physics at Kaiserlautern under the direction of Prof. Hartmut Hotop, who had been JILA Fellow Carl Lineberger’s first postdoc.
Weber’s graduate studies focused on electron attachment to molecules and clusters, which are aggregates of molecules. Weber then studied cluster-ions as a postdoc with Mark Johnson at Yale. His next stop was a junior group leader position (supported by a prestigious Emmy-Noether Fellowship) at the Universität Karlsruhe (Germany). There he also earned his Habilitation (Germany’s highest academic qualification) for studies of gas-phase clusters with infrared spectroscopy.
Weber joined the department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Colorado Boulder in 2006. His is now an Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Fellow of JILA. Weber says JILA is “likely the best place on he planet” for his research. He currently directs two major research initiatives.
In the first initiative, his group conducts photodissociation and photoelectron spectroscopic studies of mass-selected ions, studying their structures and their interactions with water, carbon dioxide, or other molecules. These studies include investigations of metal complexes (e.g., bismuth, gold, or titanium) and metal organic complexes such as ruthenium-tris-bipyridine. The group prepares such complex molecular and cluster ions in cold ion beams or traps and looks at them under collision-free conditions. The broad goal of these efforts is a better understanding of catalysis and solvation.
Weber’s second area of interest is investigating molecular, inorganic, and hybrid organic-inorganic materials at very high pressures to understand their electronic structure and study the relationship between crystal structure and electronic properties. The group performs experiments by pinching together two diamonds with a stainless steel gasket containing a tiny sample holder in between them. This setup allows the researchers to use moderate forces to create pressures of up to hundreds of thousands of atmospheres on the samples. Since the diamonds are transparent, the group can use photoluminescence or Raman spectroscopy to watch what happens to a sample as pressures rise and phase transitions occur. Weber is currently using this technique to investigate molecular crystals of organic semiconductors, such as perylene and rubrene, which contain several connected benzene rings. These molecular crystals are model materials for organic solar photovoltaics. The group is also investigating perovskite nanocrystals, which show great promise for solar cells and display applications.
In 2002, Weber received a prestigious Emmy-Noether Fellowship in support of his research at Universität Karlsruhe. Since coming to JILA, he has received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation in 2009, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship in 2010, and a Kavli Fellowship in 2012. In 2012, he also was honored with a guest professorship in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Aarhus University in Denmark.
When he’s not teaching or doing research, Weber enjoys cooking and Colorado’s beautiful mountains with his wife, biochemist Annette Erbse. Erbse is a senior research associate in the University of Colorado’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.