Two UMass Amherst Researchers Honored by American Physical Society

Panayotis Kevrekidis
Bret Jackson

AMHERST, Mass. ­– Two researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, mathematician Panayotis Kevrekidis and chemist Bret Jackson, were recently honored by their peers by being elected fellows of the American Physical Society. 

Jackson is cited for “outstanding contributions to the elucidation of gas-surface dynamics, including the development of quantum methods for describing reactive scattering and particle-substrate energy transfer, and studies of sticking, dissociative chemisorption and Eley-Rideal reactions.”

Kevrekidis is cited for “fundamental contributions to the understanding of localized solutions, of their stability in nonlinear wave equations, and of their relevance to applications from atomic physics, nonlinear optics, and granular crystals.”

Jackson’s research is focused on developing a molecular-level understanding of some of the chemistry that occurs on surfaces by exploring, theoretically, a number of reactions important in catalysis and other surface processes. In 2009, Jackson delivereda Distinguished Faculty Lecture in which he explained how catalysts, substances that significantly speed up chemical reactions without themselves being consumed, play a vital role in the human body, in laboratories and industrial plants.

Jackson joined the university in 1985 and served as chemistry department chair from 2002–09. He uses electronic structure methods to examine the molecule-surface interactions, locating transition states and reaction paths. Both quantum and classical mechanics are then used to explore the reaction dynamics. His most recent work has elucidated the dynamics of the dissociative chemisorption of methane on the surfaces of Ni and Pt catalysts. This is the rate-limiting step in the important steam reforming of natural gas. Full 15-dimensional quantum scattering studies have been able to explain the mode-specific chemistry observed for these reactions, as well as the strong variation in reactivity with catalyst temperature.

He has received many honors including Special Creativity Awards from the National Science Foundation in 2002 and 2003, the Lubrizol Award from Carnegie Mellon University in 1979 and the deFord Memorial Scholarships in 1975–76. He also has earned awards for outstanding teaching and research while at UMass Amherst.

Kevrekidis studies a variety of systems mainly related to the mathematical physics of optical systems, waveguide arrays and optical fibers, as well as ultra-cold gases in the form of Bose-Einstein Condensates and material science settings related to granular crystals.

Last January, Kevrekidis won two international prizes that recognize his work on nonlinear waves and wave equations, which marries mathematics and physics to better understand atomic, optical, and material systems involving nonlinear dynamics.

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics’ activity group on dynamical systems awarded Kevrekidis its John David Crawford Prize for “contributions to our understanding of localized solutions of nonlinear wave equations and for developing these for a variety of applications in nonlinear optics and condensed matter physics including Bose Einstein condensates and granular crystals.”

In addition, the Academy of Athens, Greece, recently recognized the UMass Amherst mathematician with its Aristides F. Pallas Prize for his paper on “Nonlinear Waves in Lattices: Past, Present, Future,” a review that included the mathematical analysis of dynamical models associated with optical waveguide arrays and granular crystal structures.

This year Kevrekidis was honored by the Center for Nonlinear Studies of the Los Alamos National Laboratory as the Stanislaw M. Ulam Distinguished Scholar. This award enables a noted scientist to spend a year carrying out research at the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos.

Kevrekidis is therefore spending the year in residence at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He has also won numerous awards including an NSF CAREER award, the Stephanos Pnevmatikos biennial prize for research in Nonlinear Phenomena, an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics Outstanding Research Paper prize among others during his time at UMass Amherst since 2001.

The American Physical Society was founded in 1899 by 36 physicists gathered at Columbia University to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics. It now has over 50,000 members organized in topical groups, divisions and sections by geographical region.