Issue Date: February 18, 2008
Arthur W. Adamson Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Surface Chemistry
Sponsored by Occidental Petroleum Corp.
For more than 25 years, Francisco Zaera has strived to uncover the molecular subtleties that drive chemical reactions on surfaces. Born and raised in Venezuela, a country with a large petroleum industry, Zaera began developing an interest in petrochemical processes, many of which are tied to heterogeneous catalysis, in his high school years. That interest eventually led him to the University of California, Riverside, where he currently serves as a chemistry professor and leads a research group that focuses on surface-mediated chemical reactions.
Like other successful researchers, Zaera is recognized for his scientific accomplishments and held in high esteem by fellow surface chemists. For example, Gabor A. Somorjai, the UC Berkeley chemistry professor with whom Zaera carried out his Ph.D. studies in the early 1980s, describes Zaera as "one of the undisputed leaders in the characterization of reactions on solid surfaces." And Princeton University chemistry professor Steven L. Bernasek points out that Zaera has developed "a very strong international reputation as one of the leaders in the study of the surface science of heterogeneous catalysis."
In addition to heading a thriving research program, Zaera is known as the kind of scientist who regularly works for the greater good of his discipline. For years he has served the ACS Colloids & Surface Chemistry Division and the California Catalysis Society. He is or has been a member of the editorial boards of several catalysis and surface science journals, was the editor of the Journal of Molecular Catalysis A for several years, and presently serves as a senior editor of the Journal of Physical Chemistry. Accordingly, Zaera is being honored with the Adamson Award not only for specific scientific accomplishments but also for excellence in surface science education and for his extensive service to the surface chemistry community.
One of the main thrusts of Zaera's work has been building up an understanding of reaction mechanisms that govern catalytic conversion of hydrocarbons. To study those mechanisms, Zaera developed alkyl halide-based methods, now used in many labs, for preparing surfaces with films of alkyl fragments. By using those methods, Zaera was able to show that the main conversion pathways for alkyl fragments on transition metals are β-hydride- and reductive-elimination steps. Those steps directly explain the facile hydrogenation and H-D exchange reactions observed in most hydrocarbon catalytic processes.
Zaera has also shown how small changes in relative rates among competing reactions-for example, α- and γ-hydride-elimination steps-can account for the enormous differences in selectivities observed with catalysts based on platinum, palladium, nickel, and copper.
More recently, Zaera's group has turned its attention to chiral surface chemistry. Through the group's in situ infrared spectroscopy advances, Zaera and coworkers have been able to probe solid-liquid interfaces. Those studies have enabled Zaera to tie surface chirality due to cinchona alkaloids, to the environment-specific conformations of those molecules. He also uncovered another mechanism for enantioselectivity based on the formation of ordered chiral superstructures.
Zaera, 49, graduated in 1979 with a combined bachelor's and master's degree in chemistry from Simón Bolívar University, in Caracas. He completed his Ph.D. studies at UC Berkeley in 1984 and has been at UC Riverside since 1987.
He has received, among other honors, the North American Catalysis Society Paul H. Emmett Award and ACS George A. Olah Award in Hydrocarbon or Petroleum Chemistry.
He will present the award address before the Division of Colloid & Surface Chemistry.
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