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Analytical Chemistry

Arthur W. Adamson Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Surface Chemistry

by Mitch Jacoby
January 16, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 3

Credit: Steven J. Sibener
Steven J. Sibener, professor, University of Chicago
Credit: Steven J. Sibener

Sponsored by the ACS Division of Colloid & Surface Chemistry and Langmuir

For more than 30 years, Steven J. Sibener, the Carl William Eisendrath Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, has been building a reputation as a master of challenging and insight-revealing surface-science experiments. By probing complex surface phenomena via sophisticated gas-scattering techniques and scanning probe microscopy, Sibener has uncovered key dynamical processes that underlie surface chemical reactions.

Experts in surface science are emphatic about the importance of Sibener’s scientific contributions. For example, Mark J. Cardillo of the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation comments that “Sibener’s research accomplishments have made a remarkable impact on the surface physical chemistry community.” Cardillo adds that Sibener “has set a standard for the highest quality of experimentation and analysis.”

Similarly emphatic is Yale University chemistry and physics professor John C. Tully. He notes that “Sibener’s studies of molecular processes at solid surfaces are unsurpassed in depth of inquiry, definitive experimentation, and lasting impact.” Tully adds that Sibener’s interpretations of experimental results of molecular-scale measurements “have been profound and have withstood the test of time.”

Some of Sibener’s best-known work is in the area of high-resolution helium and molecular beam surface-scattering dynamics. In one example, his team conducted diffraction and absorption experiments with molecular beams of rotationally selected hydrogen, deuterium, and HD. They analyzed the results with advanced computational methods and determined the anisotropic molecule surface potentials.

Sibener’s team used related methods to probe the way adsorbate molecules’ vibrational band structures evolve as the molecular layers grow in thickness. The Chicago researcher extended this technique to study order-disorder transitions and other properties of metal alloy surfaces.

One set of studies that showcase the Sibener group’s experimental sophistication was based on a triple-modulated molecular-beam technique they devised. That development, which colleagues characterize as “a major innovation in gas-surface dynamics,” enabled the Chicago group to determine the rates of fundamental surface processes as a function of surface coverage. The team then extended the method to probe materials growth, metal oxidation, and photochemical surface processes.

Sibener’s team has also customized scanning probe methods to investigate topographical features related to adsorption, reaction, and surface erosion.

They have applied these methods and others to understand aligning of domains in block copolymer films, cellular mechanisms critical to drug resistance, and properties of solar-cell nanomaterials. Some of their most recent studies have focused on the origins of molecular self-organization and chirality.

Sibener, 57, completed his undergraduate studies in chemistry and physics at the University of Rochester in 1975 and earned a Ph.D. degree in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1979. He conducted postdoctoral research at Bell Laboratories until 1980, when he assumed a faculty position at the University of Chicago.

Sibener is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society and was awarded the Marlow Medal of the Royal Society of Chemistry. He served as director of the University of Chicago’s James Franck Institute from 2001 to 2007 and currently serves as director of the National Science Foundation’s Center for Chemical Innovation for Energetic Non-Equilibrium Chemistry at Interfaces.

Sibener will present the award address before the ACS Division of Colloid & Surface Chemistry.


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