Steven J. Sibener Carl William Eisendrath Distinguished Service Professor

Born Brooklyn, New York, 1954.
University of Rochester, B.A. Physics, Sci.B. Chemistry, 1975.
University of California, Berkeley, M.S., 1977; Ph.D., 1979.
Bell Laboratories Postdoctoral Research Fellow, 1979-80.
University of Chicago, Carl William Eisendrath Distinguished Service Profesor; Faculty Member since 1980.
Director, University of Chicago Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (NSF-MRSEC), 1997-2001.
Director, The James Franck Institute, 2001-2007.
Director, DoD MURI Center for Materials Chemistry in the Space Environment, 2001-2006.
Director, NSF Center for Chemical Innovation: Center for Energetic and Non-Equilibrium Chemistry at Interfaces (CENECI), 2009 – 2012.
Director, University of Chicago Institute for Molecular Engineering’s Water Research Initiative, 2013-.
Fellow, Institute for Molecular Engineering, 2013-.


2016 Fellow, American Chemical Society

2016 Fellow, American Vacuum Society

2012 Arthur W. Adamson Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Surface Chemistry, American Chemical Society

2012 American Vacuum Society Prairie Chapter Outstanding Research Award

2012-2013 Schulich Visiting Professor Lectureship, Technion, Israel

2007-2008; 1992-1993 Visiting Fellow, Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA), University of Colorado, Boulder

2006 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

1997 Fellow, American Physical Society

1996 Chairman, Divison of Chemical Physics, American Physical Society

1988 Marlow Medal, Faraday Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry

1984-1986 IBM Faculty Development Award

1983-1987 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellow

1981 Sigma Xi, University of California, Berkeley

1980 Camille and Henry Dreyfus Young Faculty in Chemistry Award

1976 Gulf Oil Research Fellow, University of California, Berkeley

1975 American Institute of Chemists Award, University of Rochester

1975 Phi Beta Kappa, University of Rochester

OFFICE: 929 E. 57th St., GCIS E 215, Chicago, IL 60637

PHONE: (773)702-7193

FAX: (773)702-5863



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The Sibener Group has research interests in the broadly defined categories of chemical physics and physical chemistry, surface and materials chemistry, polymer dynamics, nanoscience and water sustainability. Their innovative use of sophisticated gas-surface scattering instruments and atomic-resolution scanning probe microscopes combined with appropriate theory and numerical simulations have led to advances in these areas of research. The unifying theme in the Sibener Group is to expand understanding of interfacial phenomena at the molecular level that spans fundamental knowledge discovery to applications such as energy systems. Specific areas of interest include: Surface reaction dynamics; gas-surface interaction potentials; phonon structure of surfaces and thin films; gas-surface collisional energy transfer; surface metallurgy and metallic oxidation; self-organization of molecular and polymer thin films including chiral systems; surface dynamics of polymers; superconducting radio frequency (SRF) materials for advanced accelerators; national security with focus on trace gas detection and chemical defense; water purification; ice chemistry in terrestrial and astrophysical environments; hierarchical assembly of functional nanomaterials for energy applications; and electronic and vibronic structure of nanoscale electronic interfaces. Examination of collective behavior in nanoparticle assembled materials studied at the single nanoparticle limit at cryogenic temperatures with scanning tunneling and conductive AFM spectroscopy is a recent addition to the program. Increasingly, studies in the group combine expertise in molecular beam scattering with scanning tunneling/atomic force microscopy visualization of dynamically evolving interfaces.


Surface Reaction Dynamics. Multiply-modulated molecular beam scattering techniques are used for the elucidation of heterogeneous reaction mechanisms and dynamics These experiments examine the potential energy surfaces that govern the dynamics of volatile reaction products as a function of adsorbate density, including how interadsorbate effects influence potential energy surfaces. Kinetically-activated reagents are employed to enhance the reaction rate and selectivity of heterogeneous reactions, such as for the Synthesis Gas reaction on rhodium. Another example is how synergistic effects involving UV light and atomic oxygen influence the reactivity of photoactive polymer surfaces, important for delineating how materials react in low-Earth-orbit environments. The group’s newest efforts focus on geometry- and stereo-selected reaction dynamics.


Interfacial Phonon Structure. Single phonon inelastic He scattering is a surface sensitive method that can be used to map out the full surface phonon structure of clean or molecule-covered interfaces. Recent work has focused on new electronic interfaces, developed at Caltech, that have improved redox properties for electronic and electrochemical applications. Combined experiments and quantum/dynamics calculations have shown how molecular vibrations can hybridize with and modify the phonon band structure of methyl-Si(111) interfaces.


Gas-Surface Collisional Energy Exchange. Studies of gas-surface collisional energy exchange have helped define understanding of the hierarchy of interfacial energy-exchange processes responsible for energy accommodation, sticking, and gaseous condensation. This work has quantitatively addressed how single, few, and multiphonon events contribute to energy exchange under an extraordinarily broad range of dynamical conditions. Illustrative examples include the scattering of heavy rare gases from self-assembled monolayers, where quantitative comparisons and beautiful agreement with large-scale molecular dynamics simulations have led to improved understanding of energy and momentum exchange at complex molecular interfaces. Such work is important for the refinement of advanced materials for use in advanced aircraft and spacecraft flight surfaces. Recently, work in this area has demonstrated that high-energy gas-surface collisions with SAMs can lead directly to penetration into the film followed by high-energy, directed re-emission, and that neutral species can be embedded into ice once energetic barriers are exceeded. These latter experiments are significant for many fields of endeavor, including trace gas collection and detection, climate change, and astrophysical chemistry involving planetary systems and comets.


Surface Metallurgy and Metallic Oxidation. Another ongoing effort is in the area of surface metallurgy and metallic oxidation, where molecular beam and time-lapse STM studies have elucidated definitive oxidation mechanisms for atomic, energetic, and electron-assisted processes. Completed projects have used time-lapse STM imaging to visualize at the atomic level the mechanism of step-doubling, and revealed clearly that zippering is the initial step in the faceting of interfaces, including elucidation of the kinetics and energetics for such processes. Translationally accelerated beams have examined collision energy effects in metallic oxidation, while remarkable differences in chemisorption behavior and surface-to-bulk oxygen transport occur when using atomic O. Electron stimulated oxidation of metallic surfaces has also been examined, with the observation of facile metallic oxidation at low-T indicating that synergistic effects involving electrons can substantially modify the oxidation kinetics for metals. The group is currently examining the oxidation and nitridation of Nb to improve understanding of how surface-to-bulk oxygen and nitrogen transport occurs, and how it can influence the performance of superconducting RF cavities used in particle accelerators (with Fermilab).


Self-Organization of Polymer Thin Films and Chiral Molecular Systems. The dynamical properties and organization of molecular and polymeric thin films is another current focus of the group. Atomic force microscopy is being used to examine the pathways by which defects evolve and annihilate during the annealing of polymers. Recent work has led to the development of new methods, now widely adopted, for guiding the spatial organization of diblock copolymers in nano-confinement while achieving near structural perfection. Experiments being done at elevated temperatures above the glass transition where real-time/real-space dynamics for domain organization, grain boundary mobility, and defect elimination can be followed, revealing precise details of the mechanism and kinetics for polymer organization in thin films. In separate work on molecular systems, our current focus is on understanding and controlling the chirality of adsorbed films.


Surface Dynamics of Polymers. The Sibener Group has pioneered the use of low energy, non-destructive neutral atom inelastic scattering to probe the surface vibrational characteristics of polymer surfaces. This has proven to be a most incisive approach, revealing how polymer dynamics change due to nano-confinement as film thickness approaches the radii of gyration of the polymer chains. Helium scattering has also been used to assess how surface vibrational dynamics change when going from the amorphous to the complex crystalline phase of PET.


Ice, Water Sustainability, and Environmental Interfaces. The group has several ongoing projects that focus on the chemistry of ice, especially the trapping and release of adsorbed and embedded trace gases for purposes of environmental, astrophysical, and national defense science. We are also one to the lead groups at UChicago that is participating in the Institute for Molecular Engineering’s new Water Research Initiative. This new effort has components that are associated with the catalytic destruction and filtering of contaminants. Here we partner with researchers at the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, whose world-leading expertise in applied water purification provides an excellent complement to our fundamental studies of interfacial science for sustainability.


Hierarchically Assembled Functional Nanomaterials and Directed Self-Assembly. A powerful route for the creation of functional nanomaterials is hierarchical self-assembly. Here one can use top-down/bottom-up methods to organize complex structures that would be prohibitively time consuming to fabricate using traditional lithography-only paradigms. The group has been using such methods for the synthesis of functional photovoltaic thin film devices, ultra-high density magnetic systems involving magnetic nanoparticles, and highly efficacious surface enhanced Raman (SERS) substrates based upon the formation of aligned gold nanorod arrays templated by graphoepitaxially arranged diblock copolymer thin films. Such SERS active substrates hold promise for many applications, for example, sensitive trace detection of environmental contaminants.


Selected References

1. Formation of Stabilized Ketene Intermediates in the Reaction of O(3P) with Oligo(phenylene ethynylene) Thiolate Self-Assembled Monolayers on Au(111), Wenxin Li, Grant G. Langlois, Natalie A. Kautz, and S. J. Sibener, J. Phys. Chem. C 118, 15846-15852 (2014). (link)

2. The Hybridization of Surface Waves with Organic Adlayer Librations: A Helium Atom Scattering and Density Functional Perturbation Theory Study of Methyl-Si(111), Ryan D. Brown, Zachary M. Hund, Davide Campi, Leslie E. O’Leary, Nathan S. Lewis, M. Bernasconi, G. Benedek, and S. J. Sibener, Phys. Rev. Letters 110, 156102/1-5 (2013). (link)

3. Visualization of Individual Defect Mobility and Annihilation within Cylinder-Forming Diblock Copolymer Thin Films on Nanopatterned Substrates, Qianqian Tong and S. J. Sibener, Macromolecules 46, 8538-8544 (2013). (link)

4. Scattering of High-Incident-Energy Kr and Xe from Ice: Evidence That a Major Channel Involves Penetration into the Bulk, K. D. Gibson, Daniel R. Killelea, Hanqiu Yuan, James S. Becker, Subha Pratihar, Paranjothy Manikandan, Swapnil C., Kohale, W. L. Hase, S. J. Sibener, J. Phys. Chem. C 116, 14264-14273 (2012).(link)

5. Rough Waters (First Place, AAAS Science/NSF International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge – Photography Category), Seth B. Darling and Steven J. Sibener, Science (Cover Article) 331, 852 (2011). (link)

6. Chiral Domains Achieved by Surface Adsorption of Achiral Nickel Tetraphenyl- or Octaethylporphyrin on Smooth and Locally Kinked Au(111), Lieve G. Teugels, L. Gaby Avila-Bront, and S.J. Sibener, J. Phys. Chem. C 115, 2826-2834 (2011).(link)

7. Comparative Surface Dynamics of Amorphous and Semicrystalline Polymer Films, James S. Becker, Ryan D. Brown, Daniel R. Killelea, Hanqiu Yuan, and S. J. Sibener, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108, 977-982 (2011). (link)

8. Improved Hybrid Solar Cells via In Situ UV-Polymerization, Sanja Tepavcevic, Seth B. Darling, Nada M. Dimitrijevic, Tijana Rajh, and S. J. Sibener, Small 5, 1776-1783 (2009).(link)

9. Applied Reaction Dynamics: Efficient Synthesis Gas Production via Single Collision Partial Oxidation of Methane to CO on Rh(111), K. D. Gibson, M. Viste, and S. J. Sibener, J. Chem. Phys. 125, 133401 (2006). (link)

10. Spatially Anisotropic Etching of Graphite by Hyperthermal Atomic Oxygen, Kenneth T. Nicholson, Timothy K. Minton, and S. J. Sibener, J. Phys. Chem. B 109, 8476-8480 (2005). (link)