Diethard Bohme wins prestigious prize

York’s Canada Research Chair in Chemical Mass Spectrometry, Diethard Bohme (right), has received the Gerhard Herzberg Award this year for outstanding achievement in the science of spectroscopy.

The Canadian Society for Analytical Sciences and Spectroscopy presented the award to Bohme at the 52nd International Conference on Analytical Sciences and Spectroscopy held in Kelowna, BC, in June.

“This award has a special meaning for me, not only because it recognizes in part the accomplishments of the research performed by all my graduate students and other research associates over the years, but also because of my admiration for Nobelist Gerhard Herzberg whom I had the great pleasure to meet in the early 1980s,” says Bohme.

Herzberg won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1971. The German-born scientist came to Canada in 1935 and became director of physics for the National Research Council Canada. Like Bohme, he was interested in space chemistry.

With his research team, Bohme has developed a unique type of mass spectrometer that measures the physical and chemical properties of ions and the rates of very fast chemical reactions between ions and molecules. His interests in space chemistry focus on the role of ions in molecular growth and have led to the recent discovery of an ionic route to the formation of amino acids and exotic carbon rings in the large clouds of gas and dust that are found between the stars and in planetary atmospheres. (For more about his research, see the April 14, 2004 issue of YFile.)

Bohme is also turning his gaze and his instruments from more distant corners of the universe to the intricate microscopic workings of living creatures and active molecules found right here on Earth. His recent work with atomic ions has provided an improved understanding of the transformation of polluting gases with catalytic converters and of new applications in analytical mass spectrometry. With his new mass spectrometer, Bohme expects to shed new light on how metals embedded within biological constituent molecules contribute to the way in which living tissue is activated and, for example DNA, is damaged. And by offering an improved understanding of such biochemical activity, his work could open up new frontiers in biotechnology.

Bohme is the third York professor to win the prestigious award. The first was Barry Lever, distinguished research professor in chemistry, in 1996. The second was Michael Siu, director of York’s Centre for Research in Mass Spectrometry, in 2004. Siu was nominated by Bohme.

As this year’s award winner, Bohme also gave the Gerhard Herzberg Lecture at the conference. The title of his lecture was “Periodicities in the Chemistry of Atomic Metal Cations”.