Adam Cohen

2014 National Award Winner — Faculty

Adam Cohen

Current Position:
Professor of Chemistry, Chemical Biology and Physics

Harvard University

Chemical Biology

Recognized for: Significant breakthroughs in cellular imaging that allow for the observation of neural activity in real-time, at single-cell resolution

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Spectroscopy, microscopy, neuroscience, biotechnology

Adam Cohen


BA, Chemistry and Physics, Harvard University
PhD, Theoretical Physics, Cambridge University
PhD, Experimental Biophysics, Stanford University

Adam Cohen is a Professor in the departments of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Physics at Harvard, with additional appointments in the Center for Brain Science and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.  He is also an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  His research focuses on understanding and controlling light-matter interactions in warm, wet, squishy environments.  Projects in the Cohen Lab range from new approaches to imaging brain function, to understanding fundamental quantum mechanics of light-matter interactions, to studies on the biophysics of mucus. 

In 2007, Technology Review Magazine named Cohen one of the top 35 US technological innovators under the age of 35, and in 2012, Popular Science named him one of their “Brilliant Ten” top young scientists.  He has published over fifty peer-reviewed publications and has five patents issued or pending.

In addition to his academic work, Cohen has founded a biotech company, Q-State Biosciences, focused on combining optical imaging with stem cell technology to develop new diagnostics and therapies for neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.  He has also traveled to Liberia where he worked on strengthening science education at the University of Liberia.

"I am delighted, honored, and humbled to receive the Blavatnik Award in Chemistry.  This award will give my lab freedom to explore new ideas that might not otherwise attract funding.  In a research lab, as in an orchestra, acclaim belongs more to the musicians than to the conductor.  I am deeply indebted to the many scientific virtuosos who have worked and continue to work in my lab and in my many collaborators' labs." 

Key Publications:

  1. D.R. Hochbaum, Y. Zhao, S.L. Farhi, N. Klapoetke, C.A. Werley, V. Kapoor, P. Zou, J.M. Kralj, D. Maclaurin, N. Smedemark-Margulies, J.L. Saulnier, G.L. Boulting, C. Straub, Y.K. Cho, M. Melkonian, G.K-S. Wong, D.J. Harrison, V.N. Murthy, B.L. Sebatini, E.S. Boyden, R.E. Campbell, A.E. Cohen, All-optical electrophysiology in mammalian neurons using engineered microbial rhodopsins. Nature Methods, 2014
  2. Y. Tang, A. E. Cohen, Enhanced enantioselectivity in excitation of chiral molecules by superchiral light. Science. 2011
  3. J. M. Kralj, D. R. Hochbaum, A. D. Douglass, A. E. Cohen. Electrical Spiking in Escherichia coli Probed with a Fluorescent Voltage-Indicating Protein. Science. 2011
  4. P. Fields, A. E. Cohen, Electrokinetic trapping at the one nanometer limit. PNAS. 2011

Other Honors:

2015 ACS Award in Pure Chemistry
Popular Science: Brilliant 10
Hunter College High School Distinguished Graduate Award
MIT Technology Review: TR35

In the Media:

Chemistry Professor Lights Neural Activities with Proteins. The Harvard Crimson. April 13, 2015
CNN interview with Adam Cohen. Sept. 18, 2014
SiriusXM interview with 2014 Blavatnik National Laureates Rachel Wilson, Marin Soljačić, and Adam Cohen. Sept. 17, 2014
Adam Cohen receives 2014 Blavatnik Award. Harvard Gazette. July 28, 2014
Viewing how neurons work. Harvard Gazette. July 15, 2014
Can the Nervous System Be Hacked? The New York Times. May 23, 2014
Explorers. HHMI Bulletin. Fall 2013