The Most Interdisciplinary Physical Science

At F&M we recognize that the study of materials can lead to new sources of energy, to new devices and materials, to new ways to characterize matter, or to a more sophisticated understanding of matter and our environment. 

We also recognize that it is the fundamental principles underlying the relationship between the atomic structure of matter and the properties of matter that allow us to understand how to design new materials for the future and to continue our understanding of the very basis of the nature of matter. And, we learn how to exploit these insights to make new devices, to understand what materials were used by ancient cultures, to learn about the processes that occurred in the earth's crust millions of years ago, or simply to understand why certain compounds are found (and exploited for their usefulness) in the earth's crust, whereas, other, similar compounds exist only in our laboratories.

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Research in Materials Studies at F&M 

We are fortunate to have members of the Chemistry, Physics, and Earth & Environment (Geology) departments  whose research involves the study of materials.

Below are links to faculty research pages:

We are even more fortunate to have students who participate in this research, and, as a result of the inherently great breadth of the area, graduate with a multi-faceted understanding of the nature of matter and the means to exploit that understanding. These students also become coauthors of the publications that result from the research, and importantly, they become part of  a community of interdisciplinary scholars. They share their findings at group meetings, national meetings, and in formal conversations with their peers who share their passion.

Recent publications with student coauthors (bolded) are given below:

Freund, C.; Wishard, A.; Brenner, R., Sobel, M.; Mizelle, J.; Kim, A.; Meyer, D. A.; Morford, J. L. The effect of a thiol-containing organic molecule on molybdenum adsorption onto pyrite. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 2016, 174, 222-235.

Yoder, C. H.; Christie, E. L.; and Morford, J. L. 95 Mo NMR study of the effect of structure on complexation of molybdate with alpha and beta hydroxyl carboxylic acid ligands. Polyhedron, 2015, DOI: 10.1016/j.poly.2015.09.009.

Morford J. L.; Martin, W. R.; Carney, C. M. Uranium diagenesis in sediments underlying bottom waters with high oxygen content. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 2009, 73, 2920-2937.

Morford J. L.; Martin W. R.; François R.; Carney, C. M. A model for uranium, rhenium and molybdenum diagenesis in marine sediments based on results from coastal locations. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 2009, 73, 2938-2960.

Professor Morford's full list of current publications


Professor Plass' full list of current publications

Goldenberg, J. E.; Wilt, Z.; Schermerhorn, D. V., Pasteris, J. D.; Yoder, C. H. Structural effects on incorporated water in carbonated apatites.  American Mineralogist, 2015, 100, 274-280.

Yoder, C. H.; Pasteris, J. D.; Worcester, K. N.; Schermerhorn, D. V. Structural water in carbonated hydroxylapatite and fluorapatite: confirmation by solid state 2H NMR. Calcified Tissue International, 2012, 90, 60-67.

Yoder, C. H.; Gotlieb, N. R.; Rowand, A. L. The relative stability of stoichiometrically related natural and synthetic double salts. American Mineralogist, 2010, 95, 47-51.

Professor Yoder's full list of current publications

Students' Stories

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Ryan Brenner's Story

Ryan Brenner was an excellent high school student from Palo Alto, CA, and already interested in chemistry. He was offered a Moore-Schaeffer Mentorship position for the summer prior to his first year at F&M, and joined Professor Jennifer Morford in her lab for several weeks. During that time, Ryan completed the development of a laboratory experiment for CHM221 Chemical Analysis course, a class typically taken by junior and senior chemistry majors. Ryan assisted in the final compilation of data and was the lead author on the paper that was published in The Journal of Chemical Education. Ryan returned to work with Dr. Morford for two subsequent summers and one semester on research projects that focused on better understanding molybdenum in marine environments. He has consistently shown that he can work independently and takes great ownership over his research. He results were important additions to a paper that was published in 2016, in which he is a co-author. Ryan completed his Chemistry major in three years at F&M in order to attend Columbia University's Dual Degree Engineering program, where he has pursued a Chemical Engineering major. While at Columbia, he has also been involved in the school's Formula SAE Collegiate race car design competition team. 

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Jennifer Goldenberg's Story 

Jennifer Goldenberg's high school credentials were excellent: high GPA, excellent SATs, sterling recommendations from her teachers, "Student Citizen of the Year," and clearly interested in chemistry.  She  was offered a Moore-Schaeffer Mentorship to come to F&M.  She accepted and did four weeks of research in the Yoder lab, which she then parlayed into about five hours per week research during the academic year and four more summers of research on the structure and substitution patterns of members of the apatite family (apatite is the main inorganic constituent of our bones and teeth).  During her senior independent study she finished a study on "Structural effects on incorporated water in carbonated apatites".  By this point Jennifer was able to work independently and became the lead author on a paper on these results {Goldenberg, J. E.; Wilt, Z.; Schermerhorn, D. V., Pasteris, J. D.; and Yoder, C. H., Structural effects on incorporated water in carbonated apatites, American Mineralogist, 2015, 100, 274-280.)  By the time she graduated she was a coauthor on two publications.  She then decided to pursue her interests in engineering and was accepted by Columbia University as a Masters graduate student in Biomedical Engineering.  At Columbia, Jennifer is an excellent student and also manages to pursue research and other activities such as working on proposals for a start-up company.


Selected Graduate Schools attended by students doing research at F&M in materials:

Northwestern University
Pennsylvania State University
Columbia University, School of Engineering
Oregon State University
Tulane University
University of Illinois, Chicago
University of Washington
University of Delaware



Much of the work that we do in materials science utilizes techniques and theories that were traditionally part of another discipline.  For example, the development of new photovoltaic cells requires an understanding of band theory, a model used to understand the properties of metals that was traditionally a part of physics. Likewise, the development of new types of catalysts from mineral precursors requires an understanding of solid solutions, an area typically in the bailiwick of the geologists.  Our work requires that we collaborate both internally with each other and externally with scientists from other institutions, such as:

  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • University of North Texas
  • University of Michigan
  • Messiah College
  • University of Vermont
  • Elizabethtown College
  • Eckerd College
  • University of South Florida
  • Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich)
  • Case Western Reserve University
Courses on Materials at F&M 

The following courses are part of the core content of Chemistry, Physics, and Earth & Environment:

CHM 222. Inorganic Chemistry: Structure and Stability

GEO 321. Mineralogy

PHY 442. Condensed Matter Physics


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The methods by which materials are analyzed vary considerably, but have some features in common. Some of the analytical methods, such as mass spectroscopy (MS), atomic absorption (AA), inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission (ICP-AES), and X-ray powder diffraction (XRPD) are designed to obtain elemental composition, whereas scanning electron microscopy (SEM), atomic force microscopy (AFM), and tunneling electron microscopy (TEM) are designed to investigate the surface characteristics of solids. Other techniques—solid state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), Mössbauer spectroscopy, electron spin resonance (ESR), and infrared or Raman spectroscopy—provide information about how the atoms in the material are bonded to one another.

Finally, the materials scientist is often concerned about the properties of the material in bulk— ability to adsorb other materials, surface area, magnetic susceptibility, electrical conductivity, thermal characteristics, and so on.


The following instrumentation is available at F&M for the study of materials:  

  • Atomic Force Microscopy
  • Scanning Tunneling Electron Microscopy
  • Scanning Electron Microscopy
  • Transmission Electron Microscopy
  • X-ray Powder Diffraction
  • X-ray Fluoresence
  • Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectroscopy
  • Infrared Spectroscopy
  • Ultraviolet-Visible Spectroscopy
  • Fluorimetry
  • Differential Scanning Calorimetry
  • Thermal Gravimetric Analysis
  • Electrochemical Analyzer/Potentiostat
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance: Solutions, Solids, VT, and low frequency Probes

Faculty members also have collaborations and on-going access to instrumentation at other institutions:

  • Pennsylvania State University's Materials Lab
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and University of Southern Florida for ICP-MS analyses to determine trace element concentrations
  • Argonne National Lab for extended X-ray absorption fine structure (EXAFS) and X-ray absorption near edge structure (XANES) analyses for probing the local structure around a particular element


Seminal Texts & Papers in Materials Science 

The Materials Chemistry capstone course, CHM412,  published collaborative, student-authored online textbook Introduction to Materials Characterization on chem.libretext. We will continue to improve this resource in future iterations of the course. 

General elementary texts that treat materials-related subjects well:

Arthur B. Ellis, Margret J. Geselbracht, Brian J. Johnson, George C. Lisensky, William R. Robinson “Teaching General Chemistry: A Materials Science Companion” Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998.

David W. Oxtoby, Norman H. Nachtrieb, and Wade A. Freeman “Chemistry; Science of Change” 2nd Edition, Saunders College Publishing, Philadelphia, 1994. Chapters 20-23, 25-26.  

Solid State/Crystallography/Band Theory/Devices

Anthony West, “Solid State Chemistry and Its Applications” John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1984.

S. M. Sze, “Physics of Semiconductor Devices” 2nd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1981.

Robert F. Pierret, “Advanced Semiconductor Fundamentals” Modular Series on Solid State Devices, V. 6, 2nd Edition, Prentice Hall, 2002.

F. Albert Cotton, “Chemical Applications of Group Theory” 3rd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York. 1990.


Allen Bard and Larry Faulkner “Electrochemical Methods: Fundamentals and Applications” 2nd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 2001.

Donald T. Sawyer, Andrzej Sobkowiak, Julian L. Robers, “Electrochemistry for Chemists” 2nd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1995.


C. B. Murray, C. R. Kagan, and M. G. Bawendi “Synthesis and Characterization of Monodisperse Nancrystals and Close-Packed Nanocrystal Assemblies’ Annu. Rev. Mater. Sci. 2000, 30, 545-610.

Organic Materials

Jean Roncali “Conjugated poly(thiophenes): synthesis, functionalization, and applications” Chem. Rev., 1992, 92, 711-738.

Serap Günes, Helmut Neugebauer, and Niyazi Serdar Sariciftci “Conjugated Polymer-Based Organic Solar Cells” Chem. Rev., 2007, 107, 1324-1338.

Hybrid Material Devices 

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