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Physical Sciences Division
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February 2005

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Forms Institute for Interfacial Catalysis, Names Director

PNNL to invest $8 million for a national center to study chemical transformations important for 'secure energy future'

RICHLAND, Wash. – Pacific Northwest National Laboratory today launched an $8 million Institute for Interfacial Catalysis to explore the fundamental chemical changes on surfaces where catalytic reactions take place. The Department of Energy lab also announced the appointment of University of Texas at Austin chemist John M. "Mike" White as the institute's director.

Understanding how chemicals interact at the surfaces of catalyst materials is seen as the key to converting energy into chemicals and vice versa, said White, who holds a joint appointment at PNNL while continuing as Robert A. Welch Chair of Materials Chemistry at the university. Catalysts, substances that modify chemical reaction rates and that remain unchanged afterward, also are crucial in a wide range of industrial and biological processes.

"The Institute for Interfacial Catalysis will be a centerpiece in the United States for work in the control of chemical transformations for a secure energy future," White said. "So many new things are possible in design and modeling of this catalytic chemistry because of advances in nanotechnology and high-performance supercomputing, and PNNL has been at the forefront."

White, like the IIC, will be based at PNNL, and Chuck Peden, PNNL chief scientist, will serve as IIC associate director.

"Mike was an easy choice to direct the institute," said Doug Ray, director of PNNL's chemical sciences division. "He is a leader in surface chemistry and dynamics, catalysis and photo-assisted surface reactions, knows the national lab system from working with Los Alamos and Sandia in New Mexico for many years, and for a decade (1991-02) he directed a major National Science Foundation-supported research center in Austin," UT's Technology Center for Synthesis, Growth, and Analysis of Electronic Materials.

With much of its funding coming from DOE's Office of Science, PNNL conducts more than $12 million a year in catalysis research, Ray said. That strong catalysis portfolio will enrich the scope and impact of the new institute, which will invest the new money over five years to build new capabilities.

Ray added that it was important to bring in leaders from other top research institutions together to help push research into large, fundamental problems such as using catalysts for new forms of energy production and storage. Besides White, other principal collaborators in the new institute include David Dixon, Robert Ramsay Chair of Chemistry, University of Alabama; Charles Campbell, Lloyd E. and Florence M. West Professor of Chemistry, University of Washington; Wayne Goodman, Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry, Texas A&M University; Lai-Sheng Wang, professor of physics at Washington State University; and Jun Liu, manager of the chemical synthesis and nanomaterials program, Sandia National Laboratories.

PNNL is a DOE Office of Science national laboratory that solves complex problems in energy, national security and the environment, and advances scientific frontiers in the chemical, biological, materials, environmental and computational sciences. PNNL employs 4,200 staff, has a $750 million annual budget, and has been managed by Ohio-based Battelle since the lab's inception in 1965.


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