Celebrating 50 Years of SRI's Molecular Physics Laboratory | SRI International

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SRI International Celebrates 50 Years of Molecular Physics Discoveries

MENLO PARK, Calif. August 8, 2006 This month, SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research and development institute, celebrates 50 years of molecular physics achievements. The Molecular Physics Laboratory (MPL), one of SRI’s longest-running groups, began in 1956 with experimental and theoretical research in atomic beam collisions and chemical reaction mechanisms.  Today, the laboratory provides government and commercial clients with fundamental and applied research in areas such as atmospheric chemistry and physics; trace species detection; biomedical optics; and high-temperature materials.

The Molecular Physics Laboratory has worked on research projects for a large number of government clients, including: NASA, National Science Foundation, National Institute of Health, Department of Energy and the Department of Defense. Over the past five decades, the MPL’s research and technology achievements have included:

  • Planetary Airglow: In the 1960’s, SRI pioneered the use of laboratory measurements to explain atmospheric observations of airglow. In 2001, SRI led a team that made the first observation of visible light emitted by oxygen atoms in the night airglow of Venus, offering new insight into the planet’s atmosphere.
  • Laser development: In the 1970s, SRI pioneered the development of the ultraviolet excimer lasers that have been widely used for lithography by the semiconductor fabrication industry.
  • Surface Analysis by Laser Ionization (SALI): In 1984, SRI developed this method for analyzing metals, semiconductors, composites, ceramics, and polymers.
  • Ozone research: SRI's experimental investigations of chemical reactions on nitric acid and water ice particles helped explain the Antarctic ozone hole and were recognized by the AAAS Newcomb-Cleveland Prize for 1987.
  • Modeling complex chemical systems: In the 1990s, SRI and collaborators created comprehensive chemical mechanisms and models for natural gas combustion, of particular importance for controlling pollutant generation.
  • Trace species detection: SRI is developing advanced laser-based vapor detection instrumentation, offering exceptional sensitivity and chemical specificity.

SRI’s Molecular Physics Laboratory is actively involved in the development of innovative technologies that result from scientific study, and offers technologies for license.

The MPL also participates in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. Sponsored by the NSF Physics Division, SRI's REU site offers outstanding students the opportunity to perform a variety of experimental and theoretical projects in actual laboratory settings. More than 130 students have participated in the program over 14 summers. SRI is one of very few non-university organizations to participate in this prestigious program.