Rideal Travel Bursary recipient, Amy Miller, reports from Italy

12 June 2017

13 Jun 2017

Amy Miller, recipient of the Rideal Travel Bursary, reports on her visit to Italy in February 2017 to attend the Gordon Research Conference on Chemical Reactions at Surfaces in Tuscany. She was able to present a poster detailing her PhD research on developing a new reactivity index to measure the chemical softness of metal surfaces.

‘I would like to thank the SCI-RSC Rideal Trust Committee for their generous award which enabled me to attend the Gordon Research Conference on Chemical Reactions at Surfaces. The conference was in Italy and was attended by many of the leaders in my field of catalytic surface science. I was able to present a poster at the conference which was very well received and resulted in various interesting discussions with fellow conferees.

‘The invited talks at the conference were on a variety of relevant areas to my PhD. My PhD research is on developing theoretical descriptors to understand the surface science approach to catalysis. I was able to attend talks by leaders in the fields of surface chemistry mechanisms, electrochemistry, theoretical surface techniques, dynamics and nanoparticle chemistry. It was very helpful to find out more about the fore-front of research in my field.

‘The Gordon Research Conference format allows a lot of time for questions and discussion after the talks. I was able to make the most of this opportunity to discuss the topics of my field with various academics. I asked questions in many of the talks which led to interesting discussions afterwards and several new ideas for possible collaborations.

‘In my poster I presented my research on developing a new reactivity index (the chemical softness) for metal surfaces. I have been able to obtain some very promising results in my PhD work so far, which I presented at the conference. The chemical softness is the ease by which electrons can be added to the surface at a particular position. This can be seen to be very relevant to reactivity and catalysis. I was able to present results establishing that the chemical softness is a quantitative predictor of CO binding strength at different surface sites. In addition, my presentation showed the ways in which the local form of the chemical softness can give insight to reactivity at different sites on a surface. I presented colourmaps of the local softness which gives more insight than currently used measures such as the d band centre.

‘The applications of chemical softness span many of the topics covered by the conference so that there was quite a lot of interest from academics present in applying the chemical softness to various topics. In addition, I was able to find out about current state of the art approaches to solving the problem of reactivity. In particular, the talk by Professor Philippe Sautet was very interesting. His work on using a generalised coordination number to explain reactivity trends on nanoparticles is an interesting approach to the problem of characterising reactivity.

‘Along with my supervisor, Dr Stephen Jenkins, I am in the process of writing a paper on the results we have obtained so far on the chemical softness. Attending the Gordon Research Conference on Chemical Reactions at Surfaces was extremely helpful for this. By listening to talks I was able to engage with the key problems and questions in the field at present. Also by actively participating in discussions and making comments and questions about the research which the invited speakers presented I was able to increase my professional and academic network. I hope that this will help me in the next steps of my career, such as finding possible post-doc supervisors.

‘I would like once again to thank the committee for their generous award which has enabled me to attend an extremely engaging conference. I feel that the contacts I was able to make at the conference will help me with my aspiration to become an academic. In particular, I was able to get some helpful career advice from fellow conferees and in the Gordon Research Conference 'power hour'. The insight I was able to gain into the current problems in my field of surface science and catalysis were extremely valuable.’

Amy Miller
PhD Student
University of Cambridge

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