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Helen Fielding
physical chemist

After just one year of post-doctoral research Helen Fielding was offered a university lectureship. But this shouldn't have been a surprise. As an undergraduate at Newnham College, Cambridge, she received various awards and finished with a first-class degree.

When Helen came to consider her doctorate, her ability and interest in chemistry and mathematics meant that she would look to do research work in an area that combined both disciplines. Research work can take you to unexpected places, and while engaged in a final-year project, she happened upon ideal Ph.D. material. This involved looking at the 'Rydberg states' of nitric oxide. Rydberg states are highly excited atoms whose outer electrons have almost, but not quite, enough energy to escape atomic confinement.

After her Ph.D. Helen began working in laser physics at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington. She moved on to a research fellowship at the University of Amsterdam, enjoying the fact that she could concentrate on research without having to teach. But eighteen months later she found herself having to overcome first-time lecture nerves. Used to monitoring the dynamics of electrons in atoms, as a lecturer at King's College London Helen was now faced with the mobile attention spans of students.

Since 1994 Helen has been researching and teaching in the Department of Physical Chemistry at Kings and has established a large research group with over £1 million of research council funding. Her general interests are in the electronic and molecular dynamics of small molecules in the gas phase. She made the first observation of a Rydberg electron wavepacket in a molecule and is now developing new experiments to control electronic and molecular dynamics in these systems using carefully phased or shaped pulses of light. In 1996 her research brought her the Royal Society of Chemistry Harrison Prize and in 2000 the Marlow Medal. She was aslo recently awarded a five-year Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Advanced Research Fellowship (2001–06).

Further reading:
Chemistry Department, King's College London

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Dr Helen Fielding’s work – using lasers to examine electrons in atoms – puts her at the leading edge of physical chemistry. Helen’s experimental research suggests she sees the boundaries of science as a challenge not a limit. She is a recipient of the Royal Society of Chemistry Harrison Prize and Marlow Medal.

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