Surface Science

Surfaces: Where Worlds Collide

Surface science as an independent field arose in the 1960s and '70s out of the disciplines of physics and chemistry, with the development of tools for electron spectroscopy and ultra- high-vacuum technology. These new tools made it possible to determine the structure and properties of surfaces and interfaces, and with the concurrent increase in computing power, the dynamics of chemical reactions at surfaces. With the development of scanning-probe microscopy, surfaces could be observed and photographed at the atomic level. In the 1980s, Dave Allara, then at Bell Labs, and colleagues opened up the field of organic surfaces through the use of self- assembling monolayers (SAMs), making it possible to study and design surfaces at the molecular scale.

"The importance of surfaces and interfaces cannot be overstated, with their reach extending from the hardware of the digital age to the processes of life. The past half-century has seen the development of a full and varied toolkit for characterizing them. This toolkit is now serving a growing interdisciplinary community and is providing a powerful platform for scientific research and manufacturing technology."
- Dave Allara, Penn State University (Nature, 2005)

Penn State provides a world-class suite of instrumentation for the study of surfaces and interfaces. In addition, more than 20 research groups are at work in the field of surface science.