AU Press Releases

Journal features AU professor's article

An article by Geoffrey Bowers, assistant professor of chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at Alfred University, was the cover feature for a recent issue of The Journal of Physical Chemistry C.

It’s a singular honor for a young researcher from a small master’s level university; typically, the cover spot is reserved for work by researchers from large doctoral institutions.

"It’s very much analogous to being on the front page of a big city newspaper," said Bowers. Major funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the federal Department of Energy, often use "cover stories" and publications in "top 10 journals as a measure of proficiency in research because articles are subjected to rigorous peer review before publication.

The quality and predicted impact of the research is important in selecting the cover story, Bowers said, but also important is the way the author chooses to highlight the "novelty and key aspects of the work" in a visually appealing way.

While it is more than gratifying to Bowers as a researcher to have his article selected, he said it’s also important to Alfred University. All three versions of The Journal of Physical Chemistry are highly regarded in the field; are published by the premier chemical society, the American Chemical Society; and have a broad readership within the field, so his article appearing on the cover provides great visibility to the chemistry department at AU.

The journal is published 52 times a year, with articles totaling more than 3,000 annually. Thus to be selected for the cover means his article is in the top 1 percent of articles published.

Additionally, the premier placement draws the attention of funding agencies, including the federal Department of Energy, which is funding the research project that resulted in the cover article.

"The officer of the grant program that currently funds my work…is very pleased," Bowers said. That’s also "good scientific publicity in several venues" where a small university like Alfred would not typically garner attention. "This will be good for attracting new faculty and new students, and increasing the profile" of the University so that faculty will enjoy greater success in their efforts to secure grant funding.

So what is this cover article about?

Bowers describes himself as a "physical geochemist whose interests lie predominantly in realm of interfacial chemistry," which means he looks at such things as the rates at which molecules move near a surface when water comes into contact with soil and rocks, as well as the specific types of motion they can experience.

That sort of investigation is important when looking at the rate and manner in which pollutants travel through soil, or how radioisotopes are transported in an environment. The results can influence the design of effective nuclear waste storage facilities, or the composition of new materials for energy capture and storage. "It also relates to the way buildings and infrastructure decay, all the way down to why the wax on your car repels water," Bowers said.

In the featured article, Bowers looked at rates and geometries of motion for water and ions near the surface of a clay particle over a wide range of temperatures. "We actually found and completely described a new structural feature and mechanism of motion for water adjacent to the clay surfaces," he said. "We are the first - to the best of my knowledge - to look at how the motion of ions affects the motion of water, and the way the motion of water affects the motion of ions, using a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technique." Most people’s awareness of NMR is confined to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as a medical diagnostic technique, but NMR has many properties that also make it an essential tool in other fields.

In its simplest terms, his research establishes the principle that the motion of ions can be described as "fast diffusion at lower and lower temperatures as the size of the ion decreases and its hydration energy (the amount of energy that is released by surrounding a charged ion with water molecules) increases."

His research, Bowers said, may lead to "a shift in the way we think about motion at interfaces. As least, it provides some of the first experimental evidence supporting those in the community who already believe the hydration/size relationship relates to the likelihood of interfacial diffusion."

Collaborators and co-authors include R. James Kirkpatrick, dean of natural sciences at Michigan State University, and David L. Bish, professor of geological sciences at Indiana University. The United States Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Science, Geoscience Program, funded the work.

To see Bowers’ "cover shot":

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