Los Angeles chemist wins national award for thin-film discoveries

Charles M. Knobler of Los Angeles will be honored April 9 by the worlds largest scientific society for his insights into thin films like a layer of oil on water or of a semiconductor on a computer chip, or even a cell membrane including the complex and characteristic patterns their molecules can form. He will receive the 2002 Award in Colloid or Surface Chemistry from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in Orlando, Fla.

Monolayers, that is, thin films only a single molecule thick, is Knobler's primary research interest at the University of California, Los Angeles. We've known about them for a long time Benjamin Franklin even did experiments with them but only in the last few years have we been able to actually see the monolayer, see whats happening on the surface, he said.

Knoblers research technique, which can study a monolayer coat on water almost atom by atom, helps scientists better understand how molecules interact to form cell membranes in the body, for example, or can spread as a thin film on the surface of lungs to help with respiration.

You can put molecules on a solid surface the same way, he noted. Weve had collaborations with this kind of approach being used to replace silicon technology in electronic devices.

One of Knoblers most unexpected discoveries is that monolayers exhibit a property known as self-assembly. That means the molecules on their own arrange themselves on a surface, and in very complex patterns, he said. You can stir them up, go off, come back and youll see the same pattern again.

His research team is now studying how to link specific molecular structures to their behavior in a thin film. The characteristic all have in common, however, is what Knobler calls their schizophrenic nature one end is attracted to water and the other is repelled by it.

Knobler said a fantastic teacher, John Ricci of New York University, inspired him to go into chemistry as a career. I tho

Contact: Sharon Worthy
American Chemical Society

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