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Professor Gordon Brown
Dorrell William Kirby Professorship
Stanford University

Geochemist Seeks Solutions to Toxic Pollutants Using Synchrotron Radiation Radiation

Ithaca, NY— Toxic and carcinogenic chromate contaminates the groundwater in Hanford, Washington and mercury mining contaminates the San Francisco Bay area and California Coastal Range.  An expert on these and other topics, Professor Gordon Brown, Jr., from Stanford University will spend a week visiting Cornell and deliver three lectures in a new series sponsored by CHESS on Frontier Applications in Synchrotron Radiation.

Brown’s research, through the use of X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy, has shown that naturally occurring sediments at the Hanford and other sites are immobilizing some of the chromate. Brown holds the Dorrell William Kirby Professorship at Stanford. CHESS is the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source that supports a national x-ray user program using the Wilson synchrotron facility.

One of his three lectures is targeted for the general public: “Interfaces, Heavy Metals, Microbes, and Plants:  Shedding New Light on Environmental Science at the Molecular Level,” beginning Wednesday, December 1, at 4:30pm in 125 Riley-Robb.  He will examine a number of case studies aimed at addressing specific environmental processes and problems, including Zn contamination in soils in northern France, Cr and U contamination in Hanford, Washington and As contamination problems in Bangladesh along with the role that synchrotron radiation-based methods are playing.

The other talks by Brown will include “From Subduction to Mercury in Tuna:  Hg Mining and Contamination in the California Coast Range, USA," which will explore mercury as a significant environmental contaminant, particularly in the San Francisco Bay area and California Coast Range, as a result of mercury mining in the Coast Range and placer gold mining activities in the Sierra Nevada foothills, where elemental mercury was used to amalgamate gold. He will then examine the various pathways that mercury takes in its journey from these deposits to surface waters such as drinking water reservoirs and the San Francisco Bay.  This lecture will be held Tuesday, November 30 at 4:30pm in 2146 Snee Hall.

His final talk, "Applications of Hard and Soft X-ray Spectroscopy, Scattering, and Imaging Methods to Model Environmental Systems: A Reductionist Approach to Complex Environmental Processes,” is slated for Thursday, December 2, 2004 at 12:00pm; Brown will explain how synchrotron radiation methods are being used to provide unique information on the chemical forms of common environmental contaminants in complex natural and laboratory systems at the molecular level.  Including photoemission studies of the interaction of water with metal oxide surfaces, XAFS studies of the structure of water, XAFS and x-ray scattering studies of the structure of aqueous metal complexes, grazing incidence XAFS studies of metal ion adsorption at metal oxide-aqueous solution interfaces, crystal truncation rod diffraction studies of the hydrated surfaces of metal oxides, x-ray standing wave studies of the effect of microbial biofilms on the chemical reactivity of common metal oxide surfaces, and scanning transmission x-ray microscopy studies of biocolloids.

Gordon Brown is terrific scientist and world leader in environmental applications of x-ray techniques,” says Dr. Ernie Fontes, Assistant Director of CHESS.  Brown was the lead author on a major Department of Energy 2003 EnviroSync Molecular Environmental Science Report that assessed the accomplishments and available synchrotron radiation facilities and needs as pertains to the broad category of Molecular Environmental Science.  Local geologist Prof. William Bassett (Geological Sciences) and Fontes co-authored the report.  In this report they covered a diverse set of applications ranging from industrial mining, agriculture, nuclear waste, and atmospheric and water supply contamination.

Brown is currently the Chair of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory Faculty, a Professor of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory and the Mineralogy and Geochemistry Department of Stanford University as well as a present member of several advisory and research boards.

The Frontier Applications in Synchrotron Radiation Lecture Series, established by the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source and Provost Biddy Martin, highlights pioneering scientists who are utilizing synchrotron radiation in new directions, especially in the biological and environmental areas.