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Science@Cal Lecture, May 2010

Our May 15 talk was given by Prof. Richard Saykally, a UC Berkeley chemist, and was entitled “What Makes Water Wet? The Latest Word on the Most Important Molecule in the Universe”.

Water is the third most abundant molecule in the Universe, and the basis for life as we know it. Despite this profound importance, apparent chemical simplicity, and decades of intense study, the nature of water remains incompletely understood. Current debates include the proposed existence of 17 forms of ice and two forms of the liquid, and the nature of water in confined environments, like cells and carbon nanotubes. We have accumulated a wealth of new data characterizing the nature of water via the study of water clusters in the range of dimer through hexamer, using Terahertz Laser Vibration-Rotation-Tunneling spectroscopy, which directly probes the bends and stretches of the hydrogen bonds. These data provide a good start towards “a universal first principles” model for water, that can explain all of its unusual properties.

Born in Rhinelander, Wisconsin and educated at UW-Eau Claire and UW-Madison, Saykally has been a professor at the University of California, Berkeley since 1979. Techniques developed by him and his students have permitted the first detailed study of important textbook molecules, including the hydronium (H3O+), hydroxide (OH-) and ammonium (NH4+) ions, as well as small water clusters and carbon clusters. Recent work includes the spectroscopic determination of a universal water force field via the study of water clusters. A co-author of over 360 publications, the recipient of over 60 honors and awards, Saykally is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has recently received the E.O. Lawrence Award in Chemistry from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Hinshelwood Lectureship from Oxford University, and Inaugural International Solvay Chair in Chemistry from the Solvay Institutes of Belgium, and the 2009 Peter DeBye Award in Physical Chemistry from the ACS. He is a UC Berkeley Distinguished Teacher, and has been active at the national level in science education. Over 50 students have completed the Ph.D. under his direction. Saykally currently holds The Class of 1932 Chair in the Department of Chemistry.

You can watch the video of the talk by clicking on the image below.

You can also see details of the next talk in the series, and the full calendar of talks.

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