We’re keeping the flame alive for Chemistry Week here at Real Scientists with a little help from our next curator, James Beatteas (@jamesbatteas). James is a Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University. He is also on the Editorial Board of RSC Advances and on the Editorial Advisory Board of ACS Central Science.
As usual, we asked James some questions about his scientific journey so far, and here is what he had to say:
I developed an interest in science when I was young, starting with an interest in astronomy and space (further sparked by many episodes of Star Trek) and a brother that had entered the Air Force as a pilot and a father that taught me electronics. In high school, I excelled in science classes, but when I got side tracked from running cross-country due to knee problems, I started working after school in the chemistry lab on science fair projects. This led me to compete in the State of Texas, University Interscholastic League chemistry competition, through which I earned a Welch scholarship to study chemistry at any school in Texas. As my eyesight got worse and I realized being a pilot in the Air Force was not in the cards for me, I decided to pursue a career in chemistry.
I chose the field of surface science out of my own curiosity. Surfaces are ubiquitous and they play such an important role in so many areas, that there are a never ending set of questions. And sometimes I even feel like we’re making progress on solving some important problems. What keeps me there now are the wonderful students that I get to work with. Their ideas, their questions and their curiosity continues to make science fun and exciting for me. Watching their growth and development into professional scientists is also very rewarding.
My research is in the area of materials chemistry of surfaces and interfaces, with activities covering a broad range of fundamental surface and interfacial phenomena. These include investigations of charge transport in organic molecules on surfaces (measured by scanning tunneling microscopy), nanoparticle catalysis, semiconducting nanomaterials, plasmonics, tribology, “smart” surfaces, and self-organizing nanoscale materials for device applications in optoelectronics and chemical sensing. Our work in tribology includes the use of atomic force microscopy to understand friction and wear on the of atomic scale. Here we focus mostly on the tribological properties of oxides and 2D nanomaterials such as graphene and MoS2. My lab also employs the use of large-scale molecular dynamics simulations to explore the assembly of molecules on nanoparticles and their interactions, and energy dissipation mechanisms at interfaces that influence how applied force impacts chemical reactions that underpin the mechanochemical breakdown of materials. Right now in my lab, these projects are being pursed by a team of 7 graduate students and 3 undergraduates.
Outside of the lab, I teach courses ranging from freshman chemistry (my favorite class to teach) to analytical chemistry (including quantitative chemistry and instrumental methods) to physical chemistry, including a graduate course on surface chemistry. I also work on the administrative side of things at TAMU as an Associate Dean for Research for the College of Science where my work focuses on enhancing and supporting the research enterprise at TAMU.
Our most applied work is our research in tribology. Tribology is the study of friction, adhesion and wear. Control of friction and wear is a ubiquitous challenge in numerous machined interfaces ranging from biomedical implants, to engines, to nano- and micro-scaled devices, with the energy losses associated with friction and wear having significant impacts on the economies of the world. Notably, in the energy sector, the combined energy losses and the associated system downtime due to friction and wear, contribute to an estimated loss of ~$200 billion/year in the United States alone. As such, developing new approaches for the control of friction at interfaces is a critical need for helping solve the challenges in the world’s energy needs.
I like to cook and bake, (when time permits). I have also developed an interest in scotches and gins over the past few years. I also very much enjoy traveling and watching movies. My ideal day would involve relaxing on a beach! But in lieu of that, on a hike, relaxing at home, or exploring a new city. Of course a day just cooking, baking and watching movies would suffice as well.
Please welcome James to Real Scientists!