Herschbach Prize

The Dynamics of Molecular Collisions Medals

 Dudley Herschbach 


The XXI edition of the Dynamics of Molecular Collisions conference, held in 2007 in Santa Fe, inaugurated a pair of awards to commemorate outstanding contributions, experimental and theoretical. It was doubly startling to be informed by David Chandler, chair of the DMC conference, that both of these awards were to be christened with my name. Although naturally touched, I urged that the name be regarded as representing the host of scientists, past, present, and future, captivated by molecular dynamics.

I gladly agreed to design the medals. That for Theory symbolizes, rather whimsically, our yearning to attain an exalted, exhilarating comprehension. That for Experiment symbolizes, more realistically, our grasping for incisive means to find out what actually happens in encounters of atoms, molecules, and/or photons. My friend Shah Khoshbin, a distinguished neurologist as well as an artist, drew the figures; he had done some for my Nobel Lecture.  David Chandler made the highly appropriate suggestion of combining the awards as two sides of a single coin.  When mounted like a lollypop on a stand, the medal thus has translational, rotational, and vibrational degrees of freedom, again aptly symbolic of molecular dynamics.  The unusual shape of the medal also has special and specific meaning, left up to the recipients to divine.

The recipients endow these awards with significance for their successors. Asked, retrospectively, to compose brief criteria for the awards, I suggested: “For bold and architectural work, inspiring and empowering. Such work addresses fundamental, challenging, frontier questions; brings forth new perspectives and capabilities; and typically excites evangelical fervor that recruits many followers.” These qualities are admirably exemplified by the early recipients:

  •       In 2007: Dick Zare and Bill Miller
  •       In 2009: Dan Neumark and Don Truhlar
  •       In 2011: Yuan Lee and George Schatz