Adam E. Cohen, Ph.D.

Adam E. Cohen, Ph.D.

Harvard University Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology
Harvard University Department of Physics
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Adam Cohen in his lab at Harvard in 2019

Adam Cohen's research focuses on understanding and controlling light - matter interactions in warm, wet, squishy environments. His lab discovered that a gene from a Dead Sea microorganism, when transferred to human neurons, converted the electrical impulses of these cells into flashes of fluorescence.

The Cohen lab develops and applies new physical tools to probe molecules and cells, with project ranging from quantum mechanics to pure biology. They developed a new class of fluorescent protein indicators of membrane potential, which allow one to visualize electrical dynamics in neurons, heart cells, and bacteria. They also discovered a new property of electromagnetic fields, optical chirality, which determines the degree of chiral selectivity in the interaction of light with chiral molecules.

Cohen invented an Anti-Brownian Electrokinetic trap (ABEL trap) capable of trapping and manipulating individual fluorescent molecules in solution at room temperature. Part of his lab is now studying chemical reactions whose outcome is exquisitely sensitive to small magnetic fields--a consequence of quantum coherence in a room-temperature liquid.

Research in the Cohen Lab is unified by the search for ways to achieve precise control over the classical and quantum states of molecules, under conditions that are warm and wet and squishy.


Adam Cohen is Professor of Chemistry, Chemical Biology, and Physics at Harvard University. He obtained Ph.D. degrees from Stanford in experimental biophysics and Cambridge, UK in theoretical physics. He was an undergraduate at Harvard. Cohen is a recipient of the Blavatnik National Award in Chemistry and the American Chemical Society Pure Chemistry Award. MIT Technology Review Magazine named him one of the top 35 US technological innovators under the age of 35 and Popular Science named him one of their “Brilliant Ten” top young scientists.

Cohen founded Q-State Biosciences, which combines optical imaging with stem cell technology to develop new diagnostics and therapies for neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.

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