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Datz's versatility, resourcefulness lead to prestigious national award
OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Nov. 10, 2000 Where there are gaps in knowledge, 2000 Enrico Fermi Award winner Sheldon Datz has a knack for filling them.
The physicist and senior corporate fellow at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) was honored Thursday by President Clinton for his versatility, insight and ability to develop tools and techniques that have opened new fields of exploration in physics and chemistry. His work includes extensive research into atomic interactions with ions, electrons and photons.
The Fermi award, given for a lifetime of achievement in the field of nuclear energy, is shared by Datz, Sidney Drell of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and Herbert York of the University of California's Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation.
"These scientists have made important contributions in the fields of chemistry and physics," Clinton said. "Their pioneering work in the very complex are of arms control has benefited our nation and the world."
Included in Datz's nomination for the award were several letters of recommendation from prominent scientists and professors around the world.
"Dr. Datz is a powerhouse of originality and venturesome science," Nobel Laureate J.C. Polanyi of the University of Toronto writes. "I would only like to say that the dynamism and daring that made Datz a pioneer of crossed-beam chemistry quite clearly characterizes the man and all his work."
In another letter, Reinhold Schuch, head of the Atomic Physics Department at Stockholm University, writes: "Sheldon Datz is a dominant figure and internationally accepted spokesperson for the atomic and molecular physics community. His permanent efforts promoted atomic collision physics to the status of one of the leading fields of natural sciences."
Datz, who in 1951 began his career at ORNL, and Ellison Taylor were the first to explore molecular-beam techniques for studying chemical reactions. That research laid important groundwork in the field of chemical dynamics. Two researchers who followed after the ORNL work won Nobel prizes.
It was a gap in the knowledge of how radiation damaged nuclear reactor materials that led to the discovery of ion channeling, a phenomenon that Datz has done much to elucidate.
"At the time, the Solid State Division was very interested in radiation damage that results from atomic collision interactions," Datz, 73, said. "The channeling phenomenon was discovered on a computer - the only time, to my knowledge, that's happened. Mark Robinson and Dean Oen were studying why neutron irradiation caused swelling in reactor components.
"In 1962, computers were rather limited, but they set up a Monte Carlo model of a copper lattice. They sent off an energetic copper atom to see how far it would go, and this thing kept coming out of the other end of the lattice. They later discovered that the ion was traveling between the atomic rows. Hence, channeling. It explained a lot of phenomena, and it has proven highly useful in many areas of particle-solid interactions."
Datz and colleagues also expanded the base of knowledge in accelerator science. The atomic physics aspects of ultra-relativistic collisions have a bearing on their design and operation.
"Here was another gap," Datz said. "Their poison is our meat. That is, good new basic atomic collision physics had to be investigated to meet the needs of the accelerator folks."
Datz initiated studies of the interaction of electrons with molecular ions, a process called dissociative recombination. The results are of direct interest to astrophysics and cosmology.
More recently, his interests have turned to the effects on DNA of high-energy heavy-ion bombardment using ORNL's Holifield Radioactive Ion Beam Facility and a Japanese synchrotron.
While the work of Datz is demanding and difficult to explain to a non-scientific audience, the relevance of discoveries in, for instance, analytical methods and surface modification can add up to billion-dollar industries such as ion implantation and semiconductor manufacturing.
Datz, who was born in New York City, received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Columbia University. He received master's and doctorate degrees in physical chemistry from Columbia and the University of Tennessee, respectively.
Among his numerous honors is the American Physical Society's Davisson-Germer Prize for his research into atomic interactions with ions, electrons and photons. He received an honorary doctorate from Stockholm University and another honor from the Japanese government. Datz holds many guest positions, has served on dozens of committees and has had numerous papers published.
The Enrico Fermi Award is the government's oldest science and technology award, dating back to 1956. Fermi was the leader of scientists who in 1942 achieved the first self-sustained controlled nuclear reaction at the University of Chicago. Fermi subsequently led, for the Manhattan Project, the construction of the first operating nuclear reactor at ORNL.
The winners will each receive a gold medal and a $66,000 honorarium. DOE administers the Fermi award for the White House. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson will present the awards Dec. 18 in a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Datz and his wife, Jonna, reside in Oak Ridge. Datz is the parent of William, a resident of Knoxville, and Joan Green, who lives in California.
ORNL is a Department of Energy multiprogram facility operated by UT-Battelle.