Physicist Piotr Matyba, Umeå University, is appointed Gunnar Öquist Fellow by the Kempe Foundations. The appointment entails SEK 3 million for his research and a personal award of SEK 50,000. Furthermore he will have the internationally renowned researcher Gunnar Öquist as his mentor.
“It's an immense honour! I only just started working in the Department of Physics, and my lab is completely empty. So this award has really boosted my self-confidence and has given me great financial support to get my own research started," says Piotr Matyba, assistant professor at the Department of Physics.
Piotr Matyba has a unique research profile and studies the dynamics of electrons and molecules at surfaces, using table-top laser-like x-ray sources. Nearly all technologically important chemical reactions take place on surfaces. Details that we so far “know” about many reaction paths are based on various spectroscopic methods and calculations. However, using laser-based x-ray sources it is possible to get a deeper experimental insight into dynamics of chemical processes at surfaces.
An exciting recent advance in the laser technology is the ability to generate ultrafast coherent pulses of x-rays from small-scale and table-top setups. These setups utilize the extreme nonlinear optical process of high harmonic generation to coherently upconvert laser light into pulses of x-rays. These pulses provide an excellent tool for x-ray spectroscopies and can capture dynamics of electrons and atoms adsorbed at surfaces as well as in the gas phase. The wavelength of x-rays is very short and each pulse lasts a millionth of a billionth of a second, or even shorter.
“That's extremely fast! Duration of one pulse corresponds to a time that it takes for an electron to travel from one side of a molecule to another,” says Piotr Matyba. These pulses allow us to measure how the orientation of a molecule changes and how chemical bonds are broken and how new bonds are formed during chemical processes. In this way we build the understanding of how chemistry happens step-by-step and how we can control it.
If we understand and are able to control the electronic and molecular dynamics on surfaces, we can develop catalytic systems that promote specific chemical reactions and outperform today’s catalysts. In the future, the new materials could be used in catalysts to efficiently split water into hydrogen and oxygen, or to catalyse chemical recycling of carbon dioxide.
Piotr Matyba focuses on electronic and molecular dynamics on catalytic surfaces and new graphene based materials for the next generation of catalysts.
“I will take on one of the grand challenges in the catalytic sciences. We know that certain chemical reactions can be initiated at lower temperatures and have higher yield if molecules are aligned on the surface with a laser light. It is not completely clear how aligned molecules react and create new bonds. I want to use ultra-fast x-ray pulses to capture the dynamics of aligned molecules at surfaces and understand how they undergo various chemical reactions.”
Piotr Matyba has most recently held a postdoctoral position, funded by the Swedish Research Council, at JILA; a joint department of the University of Colorado and the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder.
“That is where I started studying x-ray sources in more detail. The research team that I was part of is a renowned group in this field. Now I have the chance of bringing this cutting-edge knowledge to Umeå University, and with this new funding I can start building my own lab with researchers and experimental equipment.”
Piotr Matyba was born in 1982 in Wrocław, Poland. In 2007 he graduated with a Master's degree in experimental physics from Umeå University. He then began his doctoral studies at the Department of Physics at Umeå University. In 2011, he published his doctoral thesis on photonics and electronics, under the supervision of Ludvig Edman. During his time as a doctoral student, he helped develop new light-emitting electrochemical cells together with physicists from Umeå University, Linköping University and the Eindhoven University of Technology, which resulted in several highly cited research articles and two patents. From 2011 to 2014, Piotr Matyba was a postdoc at JILA, University of Colorado at Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, USA, a position financed by the Swedish Research Council. In July of 2014, he was recruited as a postdoctoral fellow to the Department of Physics at Umeå University.
In addition to Piotr Matyba, Fredrik Sandin at Luleå University of Technology is also appointed Gunnar Öquist Fellow 2014 by the Kempe Foundations.
This is the third year in a row that researchers have been appointed as Gunnar Öquist Fellows. In addition to a research grant of SEK three million, which the recipient disposes of freely over three years, they also receive SEK 50,000 as a personal prize. Professor Gunnar Öquist, who is perhaps Umeå University's most internationally renowned researcher, lends his name to the fellowship and acts as a mentor to the recipient. Through his many years of working in the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and his many contacts among the Nobel laureates, he has invaluable experience of revolutionary research, which he places at the disposal of the recipient.
Linda Sandblad, Department of Molecular Biology, Umeå University
Jean-Michel Roberge, Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Environmental Studies, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Umeå