Issue Date: January 12, 2009
ACS Award In Colloid & Surface Chemistry
Sponsored by Procter & Gamble
Mentors often play a pivotal role in turning their scientifically minded students on to specific specialties, and that was the case for Jacob N. Israelachvili. He says it was his graduate school mentor, the late David Tabor, who suggested he explore surface science. Israelachvili, a professor of chemical engineering and materials at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is being honored for his pioneering work in this area.
He is best known for developing the surface forces apparatus (SFA)—which he originally built as a graduate student—to study surface forces in air, but he has modified the instrument over the years for use in a number of different situations and systems including force measurements in water and other solvents. His work has greatly expanded what is known about fundamental molecular interactions including van der Waals and electrostatic forces, as well as how scientists study those interactions.
“Experimental measurements of intermolecular and surface forces did not really exist until Jacob Israelachvili came along with SFA,” says Joseph A. Zasadzinski, a professor of chemical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. “He has long been the master and has become the mentor of a new flock of force-measurement converts.”
Israelachvili has used SFA techniques to examine intermolecular and intersurface forces in biological, complex fluid, and materials systems. According to colleagues, he knows no disciplinary boundaries. He is a physicist, chemist, and a biologist. He is both an experimentalist and a theoretician.
Current investigations in Israelachvili’s lab include short-range forces between surfaces in liquids. In recent years, he has also tackled challenges ranging from food texture to oil-recovery processes.
In addition to receiving this ACS award, Israelachvili’s other honors include being elected as a foreign associate of the National Academy of Engineering in 1996 and to the National Academy of Sciences in 2004. He is also a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and the Royal Society of London. Israelachvili has been recognized by the Adhesion Society and the Materials Research Society for his work on adhesion and friction.
Israelachvili has published more than 300 papers, one of which was the most cited article in the Journal of the Chemical Society, Faraday Transactions 1, from 1955 to 1983. He is also the author of a textbook titled “Intermolecular and Surface Forces.” He tells C&EN that he is currently working on the third edition of this book.
In his spare time, Israelachvili enjoys reading about the history and philosophy of science and listening to classical music. His favorite composers are Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, both from the Baroque era.
Israelachvili, 64, was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. He received a B.A. in 1968 and a Ph.D. in 1971, both from the University of Cambridge, in England. After receiving the Ph.D., he remained in Cambridge at the Cavendish Laboratory for two more years as a postdoctoral fellow. In 1972, Israelachvili went to Stockholm University as a postdoctoral researcher for two years.
In what began as his third postdoctoral fellowship, Israelachvili joined the Australia National University, where he remained as a research scientist for 12 years. In 1986, he was recruited to UC Santa Barbara, where he is currently a professor.
Israelachvili will present his award address before the Division of Colloid & Surface Chemistry.
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