Argonne’s Fenter Wins Warren Award for X-ray Diffraction Studies

JUNE 14, 2011

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Paul Fenter

Paul Fenter, a physicist in the Chemical Sciences and Engineering Division at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, has been named the next recipient of the American Crystallographic Association’s (ACA) Bertram E. Warren Award, which recognizes contributions to the physics of solids through the use of diffraction-based techniques.

The diffraction (or, “scattering”) of high intensity x-rays, such as those produced by Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source (APS), provides powerful ways to image and visualize the structure of the samples under study. Through the use of diffraction, scientists can characterize tiny atomic and molecular structures in a wide variety of solid and liquid materials. However, the widely-known “phase problem” of crystallography makes it difficult to interpret such data. Specifically, Fenter developed approaches to image interfaces more directly so that interfacial processes could be better understood.

Fenter has spent much of his career at Argonne studying “interface dynamics” – the particular physical and chemical processes that occur at the boundaries between different materials. “With x-ray scattering and microscopy, one can visualize what’s happening at a buried interface more clearly than with virtually any other technique,” he said.

Even processes that have been studied for millennia, such as the weathering of mineral surfaces by water, benefit from investigation by x-ray diffraction, according to Fenter. “Liquid-solid interfaces are some of the most difficult to characterize, but they can also be the most important. Our understanding of what happens in these processes has been limited primarily by our ability to visualize them,” he said. “Understanding interfaces in such complex environments has continued to challenge our ability to address many energy-related technologies, such as to create new catalysts and memory storage devices, among other potential discoveries.”

The ACA bestows the Warren Award every three years. Fenter will receive the award at next year’s ACA meeting in Boston, Massachusetts. “The Warren Award is a tremendous honor for me personally, but more importantly I hope it illustrates the enormous value of using x-rays to study interfaces and materials throughout the APS,” Fenter said.

The Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory is one of five national synchrotron radiation light sources supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The APS is the source of the Western Hemisphere’s brightest high-energy x-ray beams for research in virtually every scientific discipline. More than 3,500 scientists representing universities, industry, and academic institutions from every U.S. state and several foreign nations visit the APS each year to carry out applied and basic research in support of the BES mission to understand, predict, and ultimately control matter and energy at the electronic, atomic, and molecular levels in order to provide the foundations for new energy technologies and to support DOE missions in energy, environment, and national security.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.