The Paul H. Emmett Award in Fundamental Catalysis to Professor Francisco Zaera of the University of California at Riverside, USA. The award is sponsored by the Davison Chemical Division of W.R. Grace and Company. The Award is intended to recognize and encourage individual contributions (under the age of 45) in the field of catalysis with emphasis on discovery and understanding of catalytic phenomena, proposal of catalytic reaction mechanisms and identification of and description of catalytic sites and species.
Professor Zaera’s main interests lie with the study of mechanisms of surface reactions by using modern surface-sensitive techniques. He is noted for bridging the knowledge on surface reactions with that of organometallic systems and for his extension of kinetic theories to reactions on surfaces. His nominators commented that he has placed particular emphasis on making a connection between the atomic details of surface reactions and heterogeneous catalytic processes. While most surface kinetic concepts have been recognized for some time, Francisco is credited with quantifying the kinetic consequences of these effects by a variety of surface science techniques to rationalize the rates observed in model systems and correlate them with practical heterogeneous catalysis rates.
He has been given credit for unequivocally establishing that most hydrocarbon processing catalysts are covered with a carbonaceous layer during the catalytic process. By performing isotope labeling experiments and using vibrational spectroscopy and molecular beam studies, Professor Zaera determined that those deposits are not direct intermediates in hydrogenation-dehydrogenation steps, but rather an play an indirect role by tempering the high activity of the metal surfaces and providing a reservoir for the surface hydrogen. He is also credited with establishing the prominence of hydride and reductive elimination steps as the main conversion pathways for alkyl fragments on transition metals. He has also shown how specific small changes in relative rates among competing reactions can account for vast differences in selectivity observed among some Group VIII metal centers.