University of Oregon professor wins 2004 Spiers Medal

10/05/04

Geri Richmond recognized for imaginative use of lasers in her pioneering research on liquid-liquid interfaces

EUGENE, OR October 5, 2004–It's only given once a year, to one scientist in the world. This year's Spiers Medal recipient is University of Oregon chemistry professor Geri Richmond for her pioneering research on the structure of water at surfaces.

Richmond is the 2004 recipient of the Spiers Medal, awarded by Great Britain's Royal Society of Chemistry for outstanding contributions in two main areas of physical chemistry.

"The Spiers Medal is a major honor," says Richard Linton, UO vice president for research and graduate studies. "While Professor Richmond is perhaps best known to Oregonians for her leadership on the Oregon University System board of directors, this is yet another independent confirmation that her ongoing achievements as a scientist are recognized worldwide."

Richmond's findings have implications for how we understand many important processes in our lives including biological processes, semiconductor processing, and cleaning up environmental hazards. The Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research fund her research.

At 51, Richmond is among the nation's most productive university researchers. At last count, she has published 125 papers in leading journals and new articles are pending. But it is the quality and importance of her work that places her among chemistry's elite, says Dr. Colin Bain of Oxford University's chemistry department.

"Understanding the structure of water at surfaces is one of chemistry's great challenges," Bain says. "This is at the core of understanding how proteins fold, and how proteins and enzymes interact with the membrane that surrounds the cells in our bodies. Professor Richmond's innovative use of nonlinear spectroscopy-lasers-has made it possible to study liquid structure at a variety of interfaces."

Richmond was one of the first scientists to recognize the potential of an optical tool known as infrared-visible sum-frequency generation (SFG) to provide detailed structural information on liquid-liquid interfaces.

"She realized that this technology could let us see how molecules such as the phospholipids that make up cell membranes control the structure of water at a surface," Bain explains. "She has shown how the molecules of water line up at a surface and turn around to point in the opposite direction if the charge on the surface is changed. She has also looked at water at 'oily' surfaces, which is an important step toward understanding the folding of proteins."

Earlier in her career, Richmond pioneered the study of single crystal surfaces by another laser technique called second harmonic generation, developing both the experimental methodology and a theoretical framework for interpreting the second harmonic response.

After completing her doctorate with George Pimentel at the University of California at Berkeley, Richmond spent five years as a junior faculty member at Bryn Mawr College before joining the UO faculty in 1985. She is currently the Richard M. and Patricia H. Noyes Distinguished Professor of Chemistry.

The Spiers Medal adds to a long list of major awards honoring Richmond's scientific research achievements during her 19 years at the University of Oregon. Among the most notable are the American Chemistry Society's Francis P. Garvan Medal of the ACS (1996), the Oregon Outstanding Scientist Award (2001) and the Spectrochemical Analysis Award of the ACS (2002).

She has served on many of the most influential science advisory boards in this country and has lectured extensively around the globe on her research, science education and workforce issues. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society.

The citation for Richmond's Spiers Medal also recognizes her inspirational role as a mentor to young scientists in general and women in particular. She was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Engineering Mentoring in 1997 and is the founding chair of COACh, the Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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