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Two Faculty Research Lectures in April

| 02 April 2003

In 1913, the Academic Senate launched a series of lectures to showcase the scholarly research of one of its own — and has presented its Faculty Research Lectures each year since, with the exception of 1919. For 2003, the 90th anniversary of the series, chemist Gabor Somorjai and medical anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes have been elected.

Professor Somorjai’s talk is scheduled for 5 p.m., Wednesday, April 9, in Wheeler Auditorium. A 2002 winner of the nation’s highest scientific honor, the National Medal of Science, he will speak on “Surfaces: Favorite Media of Evolution and New Technologies.”

Called the “father of modern surface chemistry,” Somorjai brought the study of surfaces, once the province of physics, into chemistry to study important real-world problems, and in the process revolutionized thinking about the nature of chemical reactions. Working with simple surfaces to discover how chemical reactions occur on them, Somorjai has extrapolated his findings to more complex surfaces like those used in industrial reactions.

His discoveries have helped scientists and engineers understand many surface features of broad technical importance — such as adhesion, lubrication, friction, absorption catalysis, and other phenomena that depend on surface interactions — and have led to new and improved methods to make useful products, such as high-octane gasoline, plastic polymers, and ammonia-based fertilizer. They have also shed light on emerging areas of science, including nanoscience and the biological reactions of enzymes.

Born in Hungary in 1935, Somojai received his Ph.D. in chemistry from Berkeley in 1960 and joined the chemistry faculty four years later. Concurrent with his faculty appointment, he is also a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He was appointed University Professor last spring.

Faculty Research Lecturers through the years have included numerous Nobelists and campus luminaries — among them anthropologist Alfred Kroeber; physicists Ernest Lawrence and Charles Townes; psychologist Edward Tolman; chemists William Giauque, Emilio Segrč, Melvin Calvin, and Glenn Seaborg; anthropologist J. Desmond Clark; poet Czeslaw Milosz; economist and mathematician Gerard Debreu; and historian Robert Brentano.

Scheper-Hughes will present the second 2003 Faculty Research Lecture on April 23. Her talk is entitled “Beyond Bioethics: Global Justice and the Traffic in Human Organs.” Look for details in an upcoming Berkeleyan.