By Michael Padilla

Sandia National Laboratories researcher David Osborn has been elected a fellow of the American Physical Society’s (APS) Division of Chemical Physics.

Election to fellowship in the APS is limited to no more than one half of one percent of the membership and is recognition by Osborn’s peers of his outstanding contributions to physics. Osborn was honored “for innovative research in multiplexed methods for interrogating chemical kinetics and measurements of the physical chemistry of previously elusive reaction intermediates,” according to the APS citation.

“It is a great honor and very humbling to be included in a group that contains so many of the scientific heroes who inspired me, like Glenn Seaborg, Robert Oppenheimer and Yuan Lee,” David said. “Being selected also reminds me how fortunate I am to have a fantastic group of scientific collaborators, who were critical to these discoveries, and for the Department of Energy funding that encourages curiosity-driven, long-term, fundamental scientific research in chemical physics.”

David said his election as a fellow is based on a technique he developed that allows chemical physicists to obtain a broader view of a chemical reaction. This technique allows physicists to look at all the different molecules in a reaction simultaneously, to watch how their concentrations increase and decrease with time and to identify the structure of each molecule. Together with his collaborators, this approach was applied to observe particular classes of long-sought chemical intermediates.

A chemical intermediate is a highly reactive molecule that comes into existence only for a short period of time during the transformation of chemical reactants to products. Chemists speculate how this transformation occurs and postulate that a certain intermediate must exist, if their hypothesis is correct.

“It is therefore especially satisfying, and may confirm or modify a hypothesis, if one can actually observe this fleeting intermediate, and even better if one can make measurements of how fast it is formed, how quickly it decays and what other molecules have a propensity to react with it,” David said.

Since 1999, David has explored the mechanisms of gas phase chemical reactions at the Sandia’s Combustion Research Facility. His research program creates multiplexed methods that provide broader views of a chemical reaction mechanism, with insights into kinetics, dynamics, spectroscopy and molecular structure of reacting systems. He has applied these techniques to problems in combustion chemistry, Earth’s troposphere and planetary atmospheres with the goal of improving our fundamental understanding of chemical reactions and the predictive capability of chemical reaction models.