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Joel Henry Hildebrand Award In The Theoretical & Experimental Chemistry Of Liquids

Sponsored by ExxonMobil Research & Engineering Co.

by Kimberly R. Twambly
February 15, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 7

Credit: Clarke W. Parker
Credit: Clarke W. Parker

Many of the most important advances in research come from bridging the gap between experiment and theory. For the past 20 years, Peter J. Rossky has been doing just that in the field of condensed-phase chemical dynamics. According to colleague Bruce J. Berne, a chemistry professor at Columbia University: “What has set him apart is his unique emphasis on calculations that permit an a priori comparison between theory and experiment. Thus, he has produced a lasting impact on both the way that theorists implement calculations and the way in which experimentalists interpret data.”

Rossky, the Marvin K. Collie Welch-Regents Chair in Chemistry and professor of chemical engineering at the University of Texas, Austin, began building bridges early in his career. “In graduate school, I worked primarily on problems in molecular quantum mechanics but worked on solvation by water as my last project. I followed that up in my postdoctoral work,” he says. “I was attracted by the progress evident at the time in the ability of theory to describe real molecular liquids, combined with the very basic questions that remained to be answered.”

Rossky’s colleagues praise his progress toward answering these questions. “In looking in detail at Rossky’s publications on the structure and dynamics of liquids, I am struck with how many fundamental advances he and his coworkers have made,” says Paul F. Barbara, a chemistry professor at UT Austin. “He has clearly developed a physical picture that makes it easier for experimentalists to understand the key aspects of theoretical models.”

One of the first advances that Rossky made in his career was the introduction of the extended RISM equation, which allows computational prediction of the structural and thermodynamic properties of realistic models of complex liquids. “This methodology remains a very active one 20 years after its introduction,” Berne says.

Since then, Rossky has spent his career contributing to the fundamental understanding of liquid-state phenomena. Among his research highlights are elucidating the behavior of water at hydrophobic surfaces, studying the structure and dynamics of the hydrated electron, and characterizing reactions in supercritical water.

Rossky, 59, received a B.A. in chemistry from Cornell University in 1971. He then went to Harvard University, earning an M.A. in chemistry in 1972 and a Ph.D. in chemical physics in 1978. He followed up his Ph.D. with a postdoc at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, as a National Science Foundation National Needs Postdoctoral Fellow. Rossky joined the faculty of UT Austin as an assistant professor of chemistry in 1979.

His numerous honors include an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship in 1982, an NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1984, a Camille Dreyfus Foundation Teacher-Scholar Award in 1984, and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship Award in 1997. He became a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1994 and of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2004.

Rossky will present the award address before the Division of Physical Chemistry.



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