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David R. McMillin

David McMillin

We know a great deal about the ground states of molecules, but electronic excited states present many new challenges. The electronic excited states of transition metal complexes, especially late transition metal complexes, are a major research interest of the McMillin group. Because late transition metal systems typically have vacant coordination sites, exciplex (excited state complex) formation is an important process, and the excited states are quite sensitive to the local environment. In addition to temperature and pressure sensing, it is possible to study DNA-binding interactions by luminescence spectroscopy.

For example, water-soluble, cationic porphyrins are versatile DNA-binding agents that could be useful in photodynamic therapy, a treatment that ultimately uses visible radiation to destroy diseased cells. For the model system Cu(TMPyP4), the luminescence spectrum reveals whether the complex intercalates or binds in a more exposed external fashion; see the Figure. Studies with hairpin-forming DNA strands are yielding important information about the sequence selectivity of the mode of binding. Other DNA-binding studies revolve around planar platinum(II) chromophores, especially systems containing terpyridine ligands. Here, the emission is also subject to exciplex quenching, but other effects influence the excited-state lifetime as well.


  • B.A., Knox College, 1969
  • Ph.D., University of Illinois, 1973


  • Arthur E. Kelly Teaching Award, 1996
  • Fellow of the Inter-American Photochemical Society , 2012
  • Frank D. Martin Undergraduate Teaching Award, 1975
  • President, Inter-American Photochemical Society, 1996
  • Research Fellow, California Institute of Technology, 1973


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