Stanford professor to speak at CSU about water microdroplets

Julia Trowbridge

Portrait of Richard Zare
Richard Zare, a professor in natural science at Stanford University, will be giving a talk on microdroplet chemistry March 7 at 4:00 p.m. (Photo courtesy of Richard Zare)

Decorated in awards like the Presidential Award for Excellence in science, mathematics, and engineering mentoring, Stanford University professor Richard Zare will be speaking at Colorado State University. 

Zare will give a talk on some of his research March 7 at 4 p.m. in room A101 of the Chemistry building. His talk, titled “Microdroplet Chemistry, a New Frontier,” will focus on his research on water, and how the size of a water microdroplet affects its properties.

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Chemistry professor A.R. “Ravi” Ravishankara, suggested an invitation for Zare to speak on his research because of his high profile in the scientific community.

“As a student, when I first heard him speak, he was an enigmatic person,” Ravishankara said. “He’s so engaging and clear when he gives a talk.”

In Zare’s microdroplet chemistry research, he looks at the changing properties of water in a smaller scale with a larger surface area. His research includes aspects of physical and analytical chemistry, as well as other scientific fields.

“The beauty of what Professor Zare does is that it’s hard to categorize into narrow bins,” Ravishankara said.

We normally never think of water as a catalyst, but I’ll be giving a talk trying to show you that it can be a catalyst, and it can catalyze acid or base catalyzed reactions.” – Professor Richard Zare, Stanford University

Neutral water has an equal distribution of a small amount of positive hydrogen and negative hydroxide ions in bulk, like a glass of water, which results in a pH of seven. Since the concentration of the ions is equal, there is not a favored acidity or basicity.

But, on the surface, the hydrogen and hydroxide ions interact with the environment around them, so the surface is more acidic and more basic because water dissociates more into ions on the periphery of a droplet. 

“It’s really quite fascinating,” Zare said. “I think it’s a new frontier in chemistry of what happens at this interface. And, I also believe in possibilities of scaling this up and making it a part of synthetic chemistry and doing synthetic chemistry this way.”

The increased reactivity at the surface of the water in addition to the increased surface area of a microdroplet allows the microdroplet to be used as a catalyst, which speeds up a reaction but is neither created nor destroyed by the reaction.

“Many reactions can happen at the surface which don’t happen in bulk, that’s another possibility, so suddenly water, believe it or not, can act as a catalyst,” Zare said. “We normally never think of water as a catalyst, but I’ll be giving a talk trying to show you that it can be a catalyst, and it can catalyze acid or base catalyzed reactions.”

Microdroplet Chemistry, a New Fronteir

Wednesday, March 7 at 4 pm, Chemistry building room A101

With his presentation, Zare hopes to convey the importance of microdroplet chemistry, as well as the inter connectivity of categories in the sciences.

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“I had a double major in chemistry and physics, and I increasingly discover that I’m more interested in biological systems,” Zare said. “From my viewpoint, there’s only one science, at most.”

Ravi said he recommends this lecture to everybody. Because Zare’s research spans across multiple fields of science, the lecture is accessible to those who do not study chemistry.

“If you want to really think about what all of science can do, come see some new frontiers,” Ravi said.

Collegian reporter Julia Trowbridge can be reached at news@collegian.com or on twitter @chapin_jules.