Chemical sciences at the ALS encompass a broad range of approaches and specializations, including surfaces/interfaces, catalysis, chemical dynamics (gas-phase chemistry), crystallography, and physical chemistry.
By one estimate, nearly 80% of all chemical reactions in nature and in human technology take place at boundaries between phases, i.e., at surfaces or interfaces. Atomic- and molecular-scale studies are needed to develop a thorough understanding of the relationships between surface properties and parameters relevant to potential applications and devices.
Catalysts play a central role in processes relevant to energy, the environment, and biology. Researchers are working to develop cheaper and smarter catalysts that are fine tuned to accelerate reactions that, for example, drive fuel-refinement, sweep toxins from emissions, or convert starch to sugar.
Predictive models of combustion and atmospheric chemistry rely on the field of chemical dynamics to understand gas-phase chemical processes. At the ALS, dedicated, intense, tunable vacuum-ultraviolet (VUV) light is combined with state-of-the-art molecular-beam machines for a broad range of studies of fundamental chemical processes.
A revolution in material-synthesis techniques is driving the need for solving the structures of small-molecule systems with small crystal sizes. The ALS provides the intense x-ray radiation necessary for studies of crystals that, because they are extremely small or weakly diffracting, would be difficult or impossible to study on standard laboratory systems.
In addition to the above, many ALS physical chemistry experiments aim to develop a fundamental understanding—at the molecular, atomic, and electronic level—of how chemical properties such as bonding and electronic state affect behavior and how chemical reactions occur.