The Chancellor Sharp Distinguished Lecture Series


Dr. Dudley Herschbach
Distinguished Professor
Texas A&M University

7:00 p.m., Thursday, April 7, 2016
Julius Becton Auditorium
A.I. Thomas Building
100 University Drive

Prairie View A&M
Prairie View A&M Event Information

Dr. Dudley Herschbach

Chemical reactions involve violent transformations. Bonds between atoms in molecules are broken and new ones created. Often the energy released accelerates apart the product molecules with the speed of rifle bullets. The products usually also are tumbling with high rotational velocity and with rapid vibrational excitation of bonds. Here we trace development of molecular beam experiments that enabled controlling reactions in single-collisions and observing properties of freshly formed products. At its onset, this project appeared so impractical that it was considered "at the lunatic fringe." Along the way, the methods developed enhanced several kindred areas of chemical physics. Among episodes mentioned will be the saga of the discovery of C60, dubbed "Buckyball." It was proposed (not successfully) as the state molecule of Texas. Surely the legislature of the Lone Star state should reconsider, as recent work shows C60 is abundant in the heavens above.


Dudley Herschbach may be best known as a guest voice on The Simpsons (Treehouse of Horror XIV, 2007), a distinction bestowed on him because he had taught Freshman Chemistry at Harvard, as well as receiving the Nobel Prize (1986). When growing up near San Jose, California, then farm country, he did not expect to even go to college, much less become a professor and scientist. Luckily, he had inspiring teachers and generous scholarship awards. From Stanford, he received a B.S. degree in Mathematics (1954) and M.S. in Chemistry (1955) then from Harvard an A.M. degree in Physics (1956) and Ph.D. in Chemical Physics (1958). Appointed to the chemistry faculty at Berkeley (1959), he undertook molecular beam experiments to resolve the dynamics of chemical reactions in single-collisions. He returned to Harvard (1963), expanding the beam research and much else over the next four decades. The research thrived because it attracted graduate students and postdocs of exceptional ability and adventurous spirit. After he became emeritus at Harvard (2003), Herschbach was lured to the physics faculty at Texas A &M (2005) where he is an itinerant member of the Institute for Quantum Science and Engineering. He also continues evangelical efforts to enhance K-12 science education, including science Fairs (see The Archimedes Initiative website).

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