Physical Chemistry, Solid State Chemistry, Surface Science and Catalysis — An atomic and molecular level understanding of surfaces is the key to understanding macroscopic surface phenomena like catalysis, adhesion, lubrication, and biocompatibility
Professor Somorjai's research interests are in the field of surface science. His group is studying the structure, bonding, and reactivity at solid surfaces on the molecular scale. This knowledge is then utilized to understand macroscopic surface phenomena; adsorption, heterogeneous catalysis, and biocompatibility on the molecular level. To this end, he also develops instruments for nanoscale characterization of surfaces. These include sum frequency generation surface vibrational spectroscopy (SFG) and high pressure scanning tunneling microscopy (high pressure STM) and high pressure X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (ambient pressure XPS).
Since 1965, Professor Somorjai has proposed, planned, and carried out a program to build the fundamental molecular basis for the surface science of heterogeneous catalysis. He characterized the structure of clean metal single crystal surfaces and determined the structure and bonding of adsorbed molecules, and used them as model catalysts. He synthesized and characterized metal and bimetallic nanoparticles in the 1-10 nm range and also used them as model catalysts as two-dimensional deposits or in three-dimensional form supported on mezoporous oxide or polymer surfaces and carried out catalytic reactions on these surfaces. He developed much of the instrumentation necessary for studying molecular surface chemistry and catalysis at high reactant pressures (atmospheres) on the small area crystals and nanoparticles. These include high pressure reaction cells that are combined with ultra high vacuum surface characterization chambers, sum frequency generation (SFG) vibrational spectroscopy, and scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), which can be used to monitor surfaces under reaction conditions, in situ. X-ray spectroscopy techniques that are synchrotron-based (ambient pressure XPS, NEXAFS and EXAFS) are also employed to monitor surfaces under reaction conditions. The reactions studied include hydrocarbon conversion and found that catalytic selectivity depends on metal nanoparticle size and shape. Small metal nanoparticles were found to be able to hetrogenize homogeneous solution phase catalytic reactions. Solid-liquid biointerfaces are studied to determine the structures of amino acids and peptides. Professor Somorjai has educated a generation of leading scientists in the field. Out of more than 130 Ph.D. students and 200 Posdoctoral Fellows, about 100 hold faculty positions.
Professor, born 1935; B.S. University of Technical Sciences, Budapest (1956); Ph.D. Physical Chemistry, University of California at Berkeley (1960); Guggenheim Fellow (1969); Unilever Professor, University of Bristol (1972); Chairman, Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry of the ACS (1975); Kokes Award, Johns Hopkins University (1976); Emmett Award of the American Catalysis Society (1977); Baker Lecturer, Cornell University (1977); Miller Professor, Berkeley (1978); Member, National Academy of Sciences (1979); Colloid and Surface Chemistry Award of the American Chemical Society (1981); Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1983); Henry Albert Palladium Medal (1986); Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry of the American Chemical Society (1989); Adamson Award in Surface Chemistry of the American Chemical Society (1994); Van Hippel Award of the Materials Research Society (1997); Wolf Prize in chemistry (1998); Creative Research Award in Homogeneous and Heterogeneous Catalysis of the American Chemical Society (2000); Linus Pauling Award (2000); National Medal of Science (2002); Honorary Doctorates: Technical University, Budapest (1989); Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris (1990); Université Libre de Bruxelles (1992); University of Ferrara, Italy; Honorary Doctorate, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden (2000); University of Manchester, United Kingdom (2001); ETH-Zürich, Switzerland (2003). Member, Hungarian Academy of Science (1992); Faculty Senior Scientist, Materials Science Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Faculty Senior Scientist, Materials Science Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. University Professor of the UC system (2002); Commencement Speaker, (2003); Honorary Fellow, Cardiff University, UK, (2006); Remsen Award from the Maryland Section of the ACS, (2006); Langmuir Prize from the American Physical Society (2007); Priestley Medal (2008); Senior Miller Fellow, Miller Institute, University of California, Berkeley (2009); Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science Award (2009); Excellence in Surface Science Award from the Surfaces in Biointerfaces Foundation (2009); Fellow of the American Chemical Society (2009); Honorary Membership, Chemical Society of Japan (2009); Docteur Honoris Causa, Northwestern University (2010); BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Basic Sciences (2011); ENI New Frontiers of Hydrocarbons Prize, 2011.