Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The 2007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Gerhard Ertl for his studies of processes on solid surfaces.

While I consider myself more of a synthetic chemist, I have done some surface chemistry and have an appreciation for suface chemistry. A significant number of students in the research group I was in at the University of Michigan did their projects on various aspects of surface chemistry. My post-doc at UCSD also involved aspects of surface chemistry.

Ertl's work has had impacts on all of our lives borh by the questions he investigated and by the methodology he developed (that others have used to study different systems). He studied how catalytic converters in our cars work, as well as how the catalyst used to make ammonia gas from nitrogen and hydrogen gases is involved in the transformation (ammonia has many important industrial roles including its use as fertilizer).

Other examples of surface chemistry include - corrosion (rust), making semi-conductor computer chips (and studying why/how they work or fail), and new fuel cell technology.

It's exciting to know that while I didn't do the exact same experiments he did, I have done similar experiments on different systems. So reading the pdf article from the Nobel committee, I understand what it takes to do some of those experiments and know what those acronyms stand for. Like how hard it is to get a surface really, really, really clean so that there are hardly any molecules of gas (oxygen, water, nitrogen, hydrogen, etc) on it at all. Let's just say you need a really good vacuum to do so. By getting your surface so clean, then you can introduce the molecules you want and look at the reaction you want to study, not some other reaction.

1 comment:

Olaina said...

Plus, your kids could eat off the surface and you wouldn't be worried about it. ;)