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“Unparalleled access” in surface science

Interdisciplinary Lehigh research team wins NSF support for next-generation surface analysis

A Lehigh University research team led by Dr. Israel E. Wachs, the G. Whitney Snyder Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Lehigh University, has been awarded a highly-competitive grant from the National Science Foundation to support research in nanotech science and engineering.

Specifically, the NSF’s “Major Research Instrumentation” grant will enable Lehigh University to acquire an advanced research instrument, called an Environmental X-ray Photoelectron Spectrometer (E-XPS), for surface analysis in different environmental conditions.

“Advanced functional materials possess unique surfaces and interfaces that find widespread use, such as generation of clean H2 fuel via photocatalytic splitting of water, solar energy storage, semiconductors, wear of materials’ surfaces, biofuel production, water treatment, biomolecules in their native wet environments, and medicine,” says Wachs, who serves as principal investigator (PI) on the grant, with co-PIs Dr. Himanshu Jain, Lehigh’s Diamond Distinguished Chair and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Dr. Jonas Baltrusaitis, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

“Successful applications require detailed information about the surfaces and interfaces of these materials in different environmental conditions,” continues Wachs. “The E-XPS will give Lehigh researchers unparalleled access to surface elemental composition and chemical state information about such interactions in different environments—gas-solid, liquid-solid, and liquid-gas—over a wide range of temperatures.”

According to Wachs, use of the E-XPS for surface analysis will overcome shortcomings of traditional XPS instrumentation that can only operate under ultra-high vacuum pressures. With this new “near ambient pressure” capability offered by the new generation of E-XPS spectrometer, Wachs envisions research activities with the potential to advance the fundamental science and design of advanced functional materials.

The MRI grant will primarily be applied in four broad areas of focus: heterogeneous catalysts and sorbents; photonics and photoelectron-chemistry; surface tribology and multifunctional materials; and biomolecules in their natural environments at surfaces/interfaces.

"This successful Lehigh grant effort is an example of what we can accomplish when interdisciplinary teams come together around common areas of academic interest," says Wachs. "We’re ready to work with Lehigh’s research community, and the broader community of Lehigh partners and collaborators in industry and academia, to find new and exciting ways that this technology can help answer important questions.”

November 20, 2017

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