Turning Points in Solid-State, Materials and Surface Science: A Book in Celebration of the Life and Work of Sir John Meurig Thomas by Kenneth D M Harris, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Turning Points in Solid-State, Materials and Surface Science: A Book in Celebration of the Life and Work of Sir John Meurig Thomas

Turning Points in Solid-State, Materials and Surface Science: A Book in Celebration of the Life and Work of Sir John Meurig Thomas

by Kenneth D M Harris

The scientific exploration of solid materials represents one of the most important, fascinating and rewarding areas of scientific endeavour in the present day, not only from the viewpoint of advancing fundamental understanding but also from the industrial perspective, given the immense diversity of applications of solid materials across the full range of commercial


The scientific exploration of solid materials represents one of the most important, fascinating and rewarding areas of scientific endeavour in the present day, not only from the viewpoint of advancing fundamental understanding but also from the industrial perspective, given the immense diversity of applications of solid materials across the full range of commercial sectors. Turning Points in Solid-State, Materials and Surface Science provides a state-of-the-art survey of some of the most important recent developments across the spectrum of solid-state, materials and surface sciences, while at the same time reflecting on key turning points in the evolution of this scientific discipline and projecting into the directions for future research progress. The book serves as a timely tribute to the life and work of Professor Sir John Meurig Thomas FRS, who has made monumental contributions to this field of science throughout his distinguished 50-year career in research, during which he has initiated, developed and exploited many important branches of this field. Indeed, the depth and breadth of his contributions towards the evolution and advancement of this scientific discipline, and his critical role in elevating this field to the important position that it now occupies within modern science, are demonstrated recurrently throughout the chapters of this book. Individual chapters are contributed by internationally leading experts in their respective fields, and the topics covered include solid-state chemistry of inorganic and organic materials, heterogeneous catalysis, surface science and materials science, with one section of the book focusing on modern developments in electron microscopy and its contributions to chemistry and materials science. The book serves as a modern and up-to-date monograph in these fields, and provides a valuable resource to researchers in academia and industry who require a comprehensive source of information on this important and rapidly developing subject.

Editorial Reviews

Crystallography reviews
"...entertaining blend of science and reminiscence."Any celebration of John Meurig Thomas's life and work should be substantial, wide-ranging, forward-looking, scientifically nourishing, elegantly presented and enjoyable. on these criteria, the editors and contributors (including the subject) are to be congratulated."
Chemistry World
The most unique scientific book I have ever read. All chapters are to a high standard and the enormous range of topics covered provide a wealth of information.

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Royal Society of Chemistry, The
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Turning Points in Solid-State, Materials and Surface Science

A Book in Celebration of the Life and Work of Sir John Meurig Thomas

By Kenneth D M Harris, Peter P. Edwards

The Royal Society of Chemistry

Copyright © 2008 The Royal Society of Chemistry
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-85404-114-5


Voyages with the Master


Physical Biology Center for Ultrafast Science and Technology, Arthur Amos Noyes Laboratory of Chemical Physics, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA

When I arrived in Philadelphia in August of 1969,I knew only of John Meurig Thomas the scientist. For more than three decades since then I have had the privilege of knowing John the scientist, the friend, and the communicator. In each of these dimensions, John is a Master. And he has one more unparalleled fourth dimension – a brilliant memory and a mental hard disk with unlimited storage capacity! Very few scientists are as versatile as John in his cross-linking of different science disciplines, and as cultured as he is in other facets of life – even in sports he was, as a schoolboy, the walking-race champion of Wales, and was also a member of the University of Wales cricket team in 1955.

My first encounter with John was in June of 1970 at the Molecular Crystal Symposium organized by Robin Hochstrasser in Philadelphia at the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter (LRSM). Among the stars present were Aleksander Davydov, Don McClure, Jan van der Waals, Hans Christoph Wolf, Wilse Robinson, and others. What John presented was his studies of dislocations in organic crystals and their vital role in determining optical and electrical properties. As a beginner, I was unaware of the totality of his impact in the field, but what impressed me most was his masterful presentation which he delivered with clarity, eloquence, and scholarly intellect. This memorable experience at the conference prompted me to squeeze myself in between the stars (Figure 1) in order to have a picture in the proximity of the world-renowned Davydov and to have a few words with John. Of course, at my level, the discussion was primarily about his enchantment with Egypt which he explored later in 1973 as a Visiting Professor at the American University in Cairo.

By the time of the eighth conference in the same series, organized in June of 1977 by Mostafa El Sayed (Figure 2), I was an invited speaker and went to Santa Barbara from Caltech, where I had been appointed as an Assistant Professor. John was there, also as an invited speaker, and again he delivered a powerful presentation. To this day I can recall the way John presented his work and particularly the way he handled the Chair of his session. In a preemptive strike designed to secure more time for himself he said, "Mr. Chairman, I am about to finish," meaning he needed another five minutes or more! At this meeting I realized one of John's most impressive traits – his expansive thirst for knowledge and his resulting interest in broad areas of science in general and scientists in particular. This was certainly true in my case. At the conference, I spoke about the phenomena of "optical coherence" in molecular crystals and the new techniques for direct probing, in a talk titled, "Optical dephasing and radiationless transitions in molecular crystals." Instantly, John became interested and asked me numerous questions with a display of genuine excitement about the development, even though it was not his area of primary interest.

We did not cross paths again for some time, until a meeting at the Royal Society in London in February of 1990. In this discussion meeting, during which John presented his Bakerian lecture (on new crystalline catalysts), I gave a lecture titled "Femtosecond reaction dynamics," and John again was aware of the research in this area. Following the lecture, he invited me for lunch where he told me a story and made a prediction. The story relates to our 1987 publication with Marcos Dantus and Mark Rosker on the direct observation of the transition state with femtosecond time resolution. John discussed the paper with his students at the Royal Institution (RI) (in particular, Kenneth Harris) and described it to them as a historic landmark paper. The prediction was that the work was deserving of the Nobel Prize. John was serious and I trusted his sincerity. But what was so unique was that he actually read the paper and appreciated the value of a contribution that was far from his own field of endeavor. In fact, he zoomed in on the central concept of coherence in observing atomic motions; a difficult concept to grasp, even for some experts.

It was at this meeting that I earned an invitation from John, as Director of the RI, to give the Faraday Discourse, enticing me – typical of John! – by mentioning the names of previous speakers from Caltech such as Robert Millikan, George Ellery Hale, Linus Pauling, and Murray Gell-Mann. John and his beloved wife, Margaret, were truly gracious hosts at the RI. With John as Director, the Faraday Discourse on March 22, 1991 was an experience organized in the true tradition of the place and the history it had integrated over time. Even though I knew the former Director, George Porter, for many years, this was my first time as an invited lecturer. In the Director's flat, Margaret arranged a lovely dinner in the company of David and Jill Buckingham, Sir Brian and Lady Pippard, Sir Geoffrey and Lady Wilkinson, and Lord and Lady Dainton (formerly Sir Fredrick Dainton). A few minutes before the lecture I was locked in a small room, literally a "Faraday cage." But just before caging me, John handed me a postcard of Sir James Dewar of liquid hydrogen fame on the back of which he had written the names of the three Nobelists from Caltech who had been in a similar situation, with John again making his obvious implication!

At exactly 9:00 p.m., John and I, in our tuxedos, walked together into the theatre as its double doors opened, and I began the lecture. The Discourse was held in the same place Michael Faraday lectured, and it surely radiated past achievements and displayed a sense of history, and John fitted in well among the previous Directors, Davy, Faraday, Bragg (Sir Lawrence), and Porter. Eadweard Muybridge gave a discourse on "animals in motion", on March 13, 1882, at which T. H. Huxley and the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson were present. We found his discourse demonstration of a slotted drum which, upon rotation, shows the animated horse in motion. I had thought of relating my discourse to motion, but now to the motion of atoms, with the title, "Filming in a millionth of a billionth of a second." The theatre was packed and I thought of embarrassing John, but without success. I mentioned that the only way I could explain the full attendance was that the Director must have promised them a discourse by Omar Sharif. John led the audience with a big laugh!

Since that time, I have greatly enjoyed both my scientific and personal interactions with John. I have become increasingly aware of his extraordinary ability to look at the big picture of science and humanity and in his genuine interest in popularizing science. His book on Faraday and his writings on Humphry Davy, Lawrence Bragg, and Max Perutz are examples of his devotion to the service of knowledge and his brilliant mastery of the English language – with a strong, attractive Welsh accent! In fact, I have two bulky files loaded with John's outside-of-science writings. But, John is also a caring fellow scientist. He has written many obituaries and given the eulogies of distinguished scientists to salute their contributions to science and society. I have repeatedly told John to write my obituary in advance as I know it will be exceptional! He is also a cultured man in music, art, and history. John does all of these activities while maintaining passionate interest in his own science with pioneering contributions over six decades of research at the University of Wales, in Bangor and Aberystwyth, University of Cambridge, and the RI.

John is distinguished for his innovative and diverse contributions, from solid state chemistry to heterogeneous catalysis, including the study of nanostruct-ures, long before they became popular! He and his co-workers have designed, synthesized, and characterized hundreds of new heterogeneous catalysts. He has also developed and applied a wide range of tools for the study of solids and their surfaces, zeolites, clays, and other analogs. With these techniques, he has elucidated the importance of the structure in the function. The methods involved include high-resolution electron microscopy, electron diffraction, synchrotron radiation, solid-state NMR, photoelectron spectroscopy, and computational techniques. At present, with Paul Midgley and others, he is pioneering powerful ex situtechniques, such as nanotomography and nano-holography, for studying solids. Moreover, he has established in situ methods for investigating solid catalysts, the result of which, through his "single-site" solid catalysts, provide strategies that are applicable in the design of new catalysts for a wide range of reactions. Earlier, John was a leader in elucidating the manner in which the surface and bulk properties of crystals are influenced by structural imperfections, notably dislocations. This work on dislocations was critical to the understanding of physical, chemical, and spectral properties of crystals such as graphite, layered minerals, and molecular solids.

His interest in diffraction and microscopy turned out to be the first scientific bonding we had. In 1991, the same year I gave the Faraday Discourse, I proposed ultrafast diffraction as a method for structural dynamics. Without delay, in the same year, John wrote a "News and Views" piece in Nature titled "Femtosecond diffraction." Towards the end of the piece, he concluded with the following words: "If the experiment does indeed prove successful, it will mark the dawn of an important new era ..." It took one decade (2001), and developments over several generations of instruments, to transform a dream into reality, from the exploration of the potential of the approach to the explosion of the applications in real experimental determination of isolated transient molecular structures.


Excerpted from Turning Points in Solid-State, Materials and Surface Science by Kenneth D M Harris, Peter P. Edwards. Copyright © 2008 The Royal Society of Chemistry. Excerpted by permission of The Royal Society of Chemistry.
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