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ECOSS 2022: University hosts successful surface science conference

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Published on Thursday, 22 September 2022

The 35th edition of the European Conference on Surface Science (ECOSS) was held in the week of the 29 August - 02 September 2022 in the Maison du Savoir, the main building of the University of Luxembourg (UL) on the Belval campus.

With 300 external participants from Academia and from Industry, it has been one of the first major international science conferences to be hosted at the University of Luxembourg. The conference was organised jointly by the University's Department of Physics and Materials Science (DPhyMS) and the Materials Research & Technology department of the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST).

Surface science is an important sub-field of materials science because many properties of materials depend on processes that take place on the surface. An important part of the conference was thus devoted to adsorption of molecules at surfaces and to chemical reactions taking place at surfaces. Modern, state-of-the-art, measurement tools such as, scanning tunnelling microscopy, enable researchers to "see" single atoms or molecules on surfaces. In addition to this spectacular spatial resolution, recent years have brought equally impressive progress in the time resolution. Using an ultrashort laser pulse to trigger a reaction and using a second pulse to "follow" the movements of the molecules, it becomes possible to produce a "movie" of a chemical reaction and to visualise - to a certain extent - even the movement of the electrons within the reacting molecule.

The scientific progress in surface science has profound consequences for the understanding of catalytic reactions at metal surfaces such as the splitting of water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen at metal electrodes with the help of electric current. This progress became visible in one of the highlights of the conference, the prize-winning talk of this year's international Gian-Paolo Brivio award. The prize was awarded during the conference to Dr. Giovanni Di Liberto from the University Milano-Bicocca, who presented a spectacular break-through in the computational design of novel catalysts using the principle of "single atom catalysis". Here, single catalytically active atoms are embedded into a matrix consisting of a surface of a cheaper metal. In this way, one combines the good conductivity of the host metal with the good catalytic properties of noble metal atoms such as platinum or gold. In the long run, this will help to reduce the usage of noble metals and to upscale catalytic water splitting efficiently to the industrial scale at moderate costs. This will be a key enabling technology for the green hydrogen economy.

Many other ground-breaking developments were presented in the five plenary talks by world-renowned experts in the field, as part of the 20 invited talks by internationally leading experts and the 180 contributed talks by participating professors, postdocs and PhD students. 90 posters were presented during the two poster sessions. The topics of the conference ranged from spectroscopy and microscopy of surfaces via dynamical processes at surfaces (adsorption, reaction, catalysis at surfaces) to the modern field of two-dimensional materials like graphene that only consist of a single atomic layer and thus consist of a "surface only". The conference was accompanied by a summer school on surface science, offering the possibility to PhD students and young postdoctoral researchers to combine the conference attendance with intense learning of the most important sub-disciplines of surface science.

"The conference has brought Luxembourg into the focus of the European surface science community for one week," said the chairman of the conference, Prof. Ludger Wirtz from the University's Department of Physics and Materials Science. "Besides the scientific programme, the participants enjoyed the modern architecture and the pleasant atmosphere of the Belval Campus. After the covid pandemic, the participants were eager to meet again in person and they engaged in many intense personal exchanges on the recent scientific progresses in the field of surface science," he added.

Prof. Wirtz thanks the local organising team for their enormous commitment to the conference. Prof. Alex Redinger (UL), Prof. Daniele Brida (UL), and Dr. Patrick Philipp (LIST) were members of the scientific organising team. The industrial exhibition was organised by Dr. Bernd Uder, instrument scientist and research support engineer in DPhyMS. The mastermind of the conference was Dr. Elodie Duriez, strategic advisor of DPhyMS. The administrative support staff which included Adamantia Galani, Patricia Ramoa, and Rita Giannini, spent countless hours on the preparation and the smooth running of the conference. The conference was generously supported by the Fond National de Recherche, Luxembourg.