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September 22, 2004
Berkeley Lab Scientist Wins E. O. Lawrence Award

BERKELEY, CA – Richard Saykally, a professor of chemistry with the University of California at Berkeley who also joined the staff of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory a year ago, has been named one of seven new winners of the E.O. Lawrence Award by Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham. Saykally won the award in the chemistry category for his groundbreaking developments in the field of spectroscopy.

Richard Saykally

“We are all enriched by the contributions these researchers have made, ranging from engines with no moving parts to better ways to see the stars,” Secretary Abraham said in announcing the 2004 Lawrence Awards, which were named for Berkeley Lab’s founder, Ernest Orlando Lawrence, the Nobel Prize-winning inventor of the cyclotron. The awards, the highest given by the DOE, recognize outstanding scientific contributions in atomic energy.

“The Lawrence awards, and the research for which they are given, show that DOE could easily be called the Department of Science and Energy,” Secretary Abraham said.

Each winner of this year’s Lawrence Award will receive a gold medal, a citation and $50,000. The Awards will be presented at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 8.

Saykally, a member of the Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division (CSD) who has worked as a professor on campus for 25 years, is Berkeley Lab's 26th recipient of a Lawrence Award. His award citation reads: “For the invention of velocity modulation spectroscopy of molecular ions; for the development of far-infrared vibration-rotation spectroscopy of radicals, clusters and carbon chains; for the elucidation of the structure and potential energy surfaces for water clusters; and for the development and application of cavity ring down spectroscopy techniques.”

The Lawrence Awards were established by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959. Recipients are chosen by independent panels from thousands of nominations by international scientists and research organizations. The awards are intended to encourage the careers of scientists who show exceptional promise.

In addition to Saykally, the other 2004 Lawrence Award winners were Nathaniel Fisch, Princeton University and Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, Princeton, N.J.; Bette Korber, Fred Mortensen and Gregory W. Swift, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M.; Claire Max, University of California, Santa Cruz, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, and; Ivan Schuller, University of California, San Diego.

“My mother asks me all the time: what can we possibly not know about water? From the point of view of a chemist the answer is . . . a whole lot!" Saykally once said in a popular TV program ("Sacred Balance") that looked at his research into the physics behind liquid water. Saykally has spent much of his professional career finding unique new ways to explore important physical phenomena we know little about.

Take, for example, his invention of velocity modulation spectroscopy to study molecular ions — enigmatic and elusive molecules with a net electrical charge. Molecular ions play critical roles in many areas of chemistry and physics, including the creation of plasmas (ionized gases), such as those found in lightning and the Northern Lights, and the formation of molecules in space and the upper atmosphere. Using standard spectroscopy techniques to study molecular ions is difficult because their light absorption properties are overlapped and drowned out by the stronger light absorption of electrically neutral molecules. Saykally solved this problem through the use of an alternating electric discharge that caused molecular ions to move towards the negative electrodes while neutral molecules remained unaffected. This enabled him to easily distinguish the molecular ions in his spectroscopic studies.

Said CSD director and fellow UCB chemist Dan Neumark,

“Rich Saykally is one of the world's leading spectroscopists. He has invented several new experimental techniques and has developed novel conceptual frameworks for understanding the high-resolution spectra of weakly bound species, such as ammonia and water clusters, which cannot be treated by the standard tools of spectroscopy. The Lawrence Award is a fitting tribute to this outstanding scientist.”

Saykally was born in Rhinelander, WI, in 1947 and attended Lakeland High School in Minocqua. He earned his B.S. at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire in 1970 and his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1977. Prior to coming to Berkeley in 1979, he was a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Institutes for Science and Technology at Boulder, CO. He currently holds the Class of 1932 Distinguished Professor Chair at Berkeley and is the co-author of more than 300 scientific publications.

Among the 35-and-counting scientific honors Saykally has received are the National Science Foundation’s Presidential Young Investigator Award, the E. R. Lippincott Medal for Spectroscopy, the Centenary Medal of the United Kingdom’s Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Irving Langmuir Award in Chemical Physics. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1995), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Saykally was also recognized as an outstanding educator when he won the UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award in 1992. In his career, he has mentored nearly 50 Ph.D. students as well as a large number of postdoctorals and undergraduates, and has been actively involved in national secondary school education projects. Many of his former research group members now hold prominent positions in leading universities and national laboratories.

Upon learning he had won the prestigious Lawrence award, Saykally had this to say: "It is a real honor to follow the many great Berkeley scientists who have been recognized by this award, and it is a fitting tribute to the accomplishments that my brilliant students and postdoctorals have managed through their hard work and creativity."

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