Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 85 Issue 5 | p. 47 | Awards
Issue Date: January 29, 2007

Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry

Department: ACS News
Credit: Jeremy K.M. Sanders, U of Cambridge
Credit: Jeremy K.M. Sanders, U of Cambridge

Sponsored by DuPont

With a list of publications and other scientific accomplishments as thick as a telephone book, it's no wonder that John T. Yates Jr., the emeritus R. K. Mellon Professor of Chemistry & Physics at the University of Pittsburgh and director of the university's Surface Science Center, is one of the most readily recognized names in surface science.

For more than 40 years, Yates has been at the forefront of research exploring physical and chemical properties of solid surfaces and has been active in developing experimental methods for measuring those properties. His work has focused on structure, chemical bonding, and other basic phenomena associated with molecules adsorbed on the surfaces of metals, semiconductors, and insulators. According to D. Wayne Goodman, a chemistry professor at Texas A&M University, Yates's four-decade research career is characterized by "far-reaching innovations" that have advanced understanding and helped establish the fundamental basis of chemisorption, surface reactivity, and heterogeneous catalysis.

The 40 years of service and broad contributions to surface science have placed Yates in high regard among the field's practitioners. Prominent members, such as Gabor A. Somorjai of the University of California, Berkeley, describe Yates as "a pioneering researcher" and one of today's "foremost surface chemists."

From Yates's long list of publications, experts identify a handful of seminal studies. Examples include the Yates group's recent investigation of the nature of CH3SH adsorption on gold surfaces and their study of electron-hole recombination processes on photoexcited semiconductor surfaces.

Other high-impact work includes the development and application of a technique known as electron-stimulated desorption-ion angular distribution. That surface-analysis method probes the structure and behavior of molecules adsorbed on surfaces by analyzing the angular distribution of ionic fragments ejected from the surface. The Pittsburgh group is also recognized for demonstrating that periodic crystal-surface features known as atomic steps can be used to direct the trajectories of reactant molecules, a process leading to surface-aligned photochemistry.

Yates, 71, graduated from Juniata College, Huntingdon, Pa., in 1956 with a bachelor's degree in chemistry. He then went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and completed his Ph.D. in physical chemistry there in 1960. Following a three-year stint as an assistant professor at Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio, Yates moved to the National Institute of Standards & Technology, Gaithersburg, Md., where he served as a postdoctoral researcher and later as a member of the technical staff until 1981. After 25 years at Pittsburgh, Yates has just been appointed professor of chemistry at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, where he will continue to teach and conduct research.

To date, Yates has published well over 600 scientific papers and has mentored more than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. He has served on the editorial board of six journals and two book series in surface science and catalysis. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and winner of numerous national and international awards including those of the American Chemical Society, the American Vacuum Society, and other organizations. Since the 1980s, Yates has been among the 100 most highly cited chemists in the world.

The award address will be presented before the Division of Physical Chemistry.

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