Awardee Interviews | Biography: Robert Madix

Robert Madix

Robert Madix, Harvard University, “For ground-breaking research that advanced the development of surface science for understanding complex surface reactions and their relationship to heterogeneous catalysis”

Prof. Robert James Madix is the Charles Lee Powell Professor, Emeritus, in Chemical Engineering at Stanford University and Senior Research Fellow in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Harvard University.   He received his B.S. degree from the University of Illinois (1961), garnered varsity letters in baseball and was awarded the Big Ten Honor Medal for athletics and academics.  Madix received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley (1964), was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry in Goettingen, Germany and then joined the chemical engineering department at Stanford University (1965).  In 2005 he took emeritus status from Stanford and moved his laboratories to Harvard.

As a graduate and postdoctoral student he recognized that fundamental understanding of reactions on catalytic surfaces was lacking. For example, rate constants for elementary steps, even adsorption probabilities, were unknown.  Compositions, structures and active site densities of catalytic surfaces were uncertain.  Mechanistic and kinetic phenomena were concluded from lumped parameter models. These conditions gave birth to the 55 years that Prof. Madix has devoted his research to connecting surface science and heterogeneous catalysis.
Starting with a  basic UHV/LEED  system, when it first became available, Madix and his students added a quadrupole mass spectrometer, built a lab computer and created temperature programmed reaction spectroscopy (TPRS) to study the kinetics and mechanism of surface reactions.  Over the years they were early adopters  of powerful surface spectroscopies to understand complex surface chemistry, including Auger electron, X-ray photoelectron, low energy electron and reflection absorption infrared, and ultimately STM and synchrotron-based methods,  which lead to many discoveries linking surface chemistry and catalysis.  His many contributions include understanding the nature of catalyst “poisons”, determining the principles governing selective oxidation reactions on copper, silver and gold, and defining the adsorption dynamics of complex molecules. Recently, he and his students have bridged the so-called pressure, material and temperature gaps and predicted catalytic performance from UHV studies.

Prof. Madix helped establish the Surface Science Division of the AVS as the initial home of the surface science of catalysis.  He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the American Chemical Society and the American Vacuum Society.  Madix has received numerous awards, including the Emmet Award in Fundamental Catalysis, the Alpha Chi Sigma Award of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the Henry J. Albert Award from the International Precious Metals Institute, the Arthur Adamson Award in Surface Chemistry of the American Chemical Society, and the Gabor A. Somorjai Award for Innovation in Catalysis from the American Chemical Society.