Sterling College Assistant Professor of Physics and Physical Chemistry Publishes Article in “Chemical Physics”

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sterling College Assistant Professor of Physics and Physical Chemistry Dr. Johnson Agbo earned his undergraduate degree in mathematics, took master's-level classes in mathematics and then completed his chemical physics.

"I enjoy math, but chemical physics has broadened my horizon of knowledge," said Dr. Agbo. It certainly has. Recently Dr. Agbo published "Quantum localization, dephasing and vibrational energy flow in a trans-formanilide (TFA)-H2O complex" in the research journal "Chemical Physics," which presents frontier research on physical phenomena in chemistry, biology and materials science. This is quite an accomplishment for someone who entered the field more through opportunity than choice.

"I wanted a doctorate in mathematics," said Dr. Agbo, who is a Ghanaian, "but I could not find a scholarship for a math program. The opportunity came about for doctoral study in chemical physics at the University of Nevada. I talked with some of my friends who were there, and they said my math background would enable me to pursue it."

In 2001 Dr. Agbo left his family in Ghana and moved to the U.S. His family joined him in 2006. He completed his doctorate in 2007 and began looking for teaching positions. He was offered jobs at Sterling and another college on the same day. "I chose Sterling because of the Christian environment I experienced here when I interviewed," said Agbo, "and the process of choosing was definitely God-driven."

At Sterling he has continued the research he began at the University of Nevada. "It actually centers on how energy flows in a biological molecule. That is the basis."

It may be the basis, but the specifics are far more complex. When SC's VP for Academic Affairs Dr. Gregory Kerr announced the news of Agbo's publication to the College community, he wrote, "I realize the title ("Quantum localization, dephasing and vibrational energy flow in a trans-formanilide (TFA)-H2O complex") may be confusing to some, so perhaps it would help if I say that in this study he applies random matrix theory to provide a statistical description of the vibrational eigenstates of a peptide."

"On second thought," Dr. Kerr continued, "maybe that won't help."

In more simplified terms Dr. Agbo and his colleagues are applying energy to a small area of a molecule and watching how that energy flows out to the rest of the molecule. They follow the rate of energy flow, the channel that the flow follows, and which atoms or "particles" are "helping" the flow. This is done using vibrational mode analysis. For this recent publication Dr. Agbo studied the interaction of a peptide and a water molecule to determine if there is any coupling between the vibrational modes of the complex.

"If we can understand this flow of energy," Dr. Agbo said, "-and the rate of water shuttling between the hydrogen bonding sites on the peptide--then the rate of energy localization in the complex could be determined."

"Congratulations are in order to Dr. Agbo," said Dr. Kerr. "This is a definite accomplishment."