Awardee Interviews | Biography: Donald R. Baer

Donald R. Baer

Donald R. Baer, Pacific Northwest National Lab., “for seminal contributions towards advancing the application of surface-sensitive techniques to understand environmentally important materials and interfacial processes.”
Don Baer is a Laboratory Fellow at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Lead Scientist for Interfacial Chemistry at EMSL—the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy national scientific user facility located at PNNL. He is also a fellow of AVS and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and an adjunct professor of physics at Washington State University, Tri-Cities and of chemistry at the University of Washington.
Dr. Baer received a B.S. in physics in 1969 from Carnegie-Mellon University and a Ph.D. in experimental physics in 1974 from Cornell, where he examined surface effects on the electrical and thermal transport properties of metals at low temperatures. After a two-year post-doctoral stint in the Physics Department at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana, Don joined PNNL in 1976 where he has worked ever since, other than a sabbatical as a visiting Research Fellow at the University of Surrey to work with Prof. James Castle (1984-1985).
Over the past 30 years, an overarching theme of Dr. Baer’s research has been adapting and applying surface-sensitive analytical methods to obtain quantitative information that facilitates understanding of technically and environmentally relevant complex problems. Bridging several disciplines, these research activities have tended to concentrate in four major areas.
  1. His early work centered on metallic corrosion and involved studies that investigated the properties of metals in a “working” environment, such as plasma-wall interactions, high-temperature metal corrosion, passive film formation, and stress corrosion cracking.
  2. A second area of research began in concert with the creation of EMSL and recognition that oxides and minerals are the most environmentally relevant materials.  This research has entailed using a number of different surface analysis techniques to characterize oxide and mineral surfaces, as well as interactions of minerals and oxides with their environment. In one research program, Dr. Baer led a team that combined theoretical and experimental studies of dissolution and growth reactions, including the impacts of surface and solute impurities to obtain molecular-level and site-specific understanding of the reactions at calcite surfaces aqueous solutions. Other oxide related research included detailed studies of glass leaching relevant to nuclear waste storage and small molecule inter-actions with defects on rutile surfaces.
  3. More recently, Dr. Baer combined environmental interactions of metals and solution properties of oxides toward understanding iron nanoparticle reactivity for reducing solution contaminants, such as chlorinated hydrocarbons.
  4. Throughout, he has developed and refined surface analysis methods as needed for application to these complex problems.
Dr. Baer is author or co-author of more than 220 publications, has edited two books, and served as special editor of four special journal issues. He also serves on the editorial board of Surface Science Spectra and is the reviews editor of Surface and Interface Analysis. Among his awards are a Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Technology Transfer, PNNL’s Fitzner-Eberhardt Award for Outstanding Contributions to Science and Engineering Education, and PNNL’s Chester Cooper Mentor of the Year Award.