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Albert Okhrimenko
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Researching Electronically Excited States of Metalloporphyrins

Albert Okhrimenko

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My research area covers a range of topics on the electronic-excited-state processes of metalloporphyrins. One area of recent focus has been the relationship between the structure of porphyrins and their static and time-resolved photophysical properties. This relationship is both of fundamental interest and is also highly relevant to the function of tetrapyrrole cofactors in biological systems such as photosynthetic proteins (antenna and reaction center), heme proteins (hemoglobin and cytochromes), and others. Metallo- tetrapyrrole systems have been widely investigated for many decades due to a variety of applications. Transition metal complexes with tetrapyrrole ligands have been proven to be suitable systems for studying the relationship between molecular composition, electronic and nuclear properties, and photodynamics of the excited states. Very interesting from that point of view are the nickel(II) tetrapyrroles, which exhibit ultrafast excited state relaxation dynamics owing to the central metal, which provides additional non-radiative pathways for the deactivation of the tetrapyrrole ring excited states.

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Recent developments in photodynamic therapy and photo thermal therapy have drawn additional attention to these compounds. These new techniques are a novel approach to the possible treatment of cancer tumors. Chemotherapy, which is widely used nowadays, makes the whole human body exposed to the poisonous chemicals due to the lack of selectivity and targeting. Using metallo porphyrins implies more selectivity because the actual therapeutic action is activated only upon irradiation with laser light, and the laser beam can be as small as a poppy seed.  My focus is on nickel porphyrins, which can release a lot of heat when a light beam excites them. Since the relaxation happens on a picosecond time scale, a huge amount of heat can be dumped into the environment. Thus, if a malignant DNA happens to be in close proximity, it breaks into pieces. Establishing mechanistic background for the dynamics of the molecules of interest is the key element in predicting the properties of desired molecular systems and steering their behavior in the desired direction.

Working in the lab also offers me a lot of hands-on experience in building and optimizing spectrophotometric set-ups and tuning the laser equipment to its optimal performance. The more I get involved, the more my interest grows. There’s never a limit to what a person can learn and master. It is a real paradise for inquisitive minds.

Two years ago I received the McMaster Outstanding Doctoral Fellow Award, which allowed me to concentrate more on my research and be able to attend scientific community meetings. And what’s more important is that being recognized for my achievements inspires me to perform even more, widen my scientific horizons and overcome more challenges in my scientific career path.

Albert Okhrimenko

I plan to go on to work in industrial research and development. I am both an engineer and a scientist, so I’d like to combine technology and science. Discovering new materials and chemicals and introducing them into people’s everyday lives would be the most satisfying thing for me to do.

If you are considering research in the photosciences, I advise you to take in-depth science courses. I chose to study chemical engineering as an undergraduate because it is a very inclusive major, combining elements of chemistry, physics, and engineering. Keep your mind open to new things, be ready for interpersonal communication to share your scientific ideas and don’t be afraid of challenge.

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