José Rodriguez, an adjunct professor in the departments of Chemistry and Materials Science and Chemical Engineering at Stony Brook University and a chemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, has been named a 2021 Fellow of the American Vacuum Society (AVS). The award recognizes AVS members who have made sustained and outstanding technical contributions throughout their careers in areas of interest to the society.
This honor recognizes Rodriguez for his contributions in the field of catalysis, which is the study and design of chemical substances that facilitate molecular interactions during chemical reactions. Catalysts help bring reacting molecules together and often lower the energy required to break and reform chemical bonds. They generally speed up reactions, making them more efficient. Studying catalytic materials and processes under vacuum conditions — that is, in the absence of other materials or molecules — is important for assessing and improving their performance.
Specifically, AVS cites Rodriguez for his “seminal contributions to the understanding of reactions associated with desulfurization and C1 chemistry on surfaces of metals, oxides, carbides and sulfides.” These reactions are important for producing clean, efficient, renewable fuels and for controlling environmental pollution.
“This is a great honor for me,” Rodriguez said. “Since the early age of space exploration in the 1960s, when it became possible to study surface reactions under vacuum or ultrahigh vacuum conditions, characterization techniques have evolved, and now we have powerful tools that can help us to design better catalysts.”
Early in his career, Rodriguez pursued a highly productive research program in hydrodesulfurization catalysis. He developed a process for removing sulfur from petroleum feedstocks to control pollution and produce cleaner fuels. His more recent work focuses on “C1 chemistry.” These reactions involve molecules with just one carbon (C) atom. They include hydrogenating carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2), and converting methane (CH4) to methanol (CH3OH) or hydrogen. One goal of these reactions is to transform potent greenhouse gases into fuels and other useful chemicals.
During his 30-year career at Brookhaven Lab, Rodriguez has developed extensive expertise and served as a mentor and collaborator. He’s hosted undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and visiting scientists from other national laboratories and universities. He has helped guide the design of experimental tools and techniques for in situ studies —experiments that track catalytic reactions as they happen. He is also an expert in using theoretical approaches that turn experimental data into molecular models, and in using theory and modeling to uncover precise reaction mechanisms. Through this interplay of experiment and theory, Rodriguez and his collaborators have identified reaction bottlenecks and barriers — and ways to rationally tweak the design of catalysts to improve their performance.