Chemistry professor Dennis Lindle recently was named a UNLV distinguished professor. It is the highest honor the university bestows upon a faculty member and is given only when a special committee deems a professor worthy. Lindle came to UNLV in 1991. He received his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley in 1983. His research interests are in the area of X-ray spectroscopy and the fundamental properties of matter.
In high school I had excellent and inspiring teachers in both chemistry and physics. That sealed my fate to work at the border of physics and chemistry - I am a physical chemist whose research is more physics than chemistry.
Has it been what you expected?
Better! It is always intellectually challenging. I've met many brilliant people who I now call friends and colleagues. My relatively small research field (a few hundred around the world in my immediate field) is like a big family - mostly cooperative, occasionally competitive.
What has surprised you about the field?
How science is so much like other human endeavors. Scientists are people, too, and we bring the same strengths and weaknesses, good traits, and odd behaviors, to the work we do. While science is very complex and technical, it is still very individual, just like artistic pursuits.
I have always been interested in the fundamentals of science, the simplest interactions that are still complex enough to surprise us. As an undergraduate at Indiana University, I studied laser interactions with small molecules, what is known as spectroscopy. I continued this interest as a graduate student, focusing on the study of the photoelectric effect, for which Einstein won his Nobel Prize, in atoms and small molecules. My research group at UC Berkeley also was one of the pioneers in the use of X-ray synchrotron radiation to pursue these types of studies.
Your work at Cal Berkeley
My association with UC Berkeley, and specifically the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), dates from my first year as a graduate student in the fall of 1978. I joined the research group of professor David Shirley in the chemistry department. His research labs were not located on campus, but "on the hill" at LBNL, a large Department of Energy facility adjacent to the Berkeley campus. In 1980, Shirley became the director of LBNL. During his tenure, he pushed for the development of a new synchrotron-radiation user facility, dubbed the Advanced Light Source (ALS). As a senior member of his group, I helped write some of the justifications for the new facility. The ALS was indeed built and is celebrating its 20th year of operation in 2013.
As a regular user of the ALS over the past 20 years, my focus has been on studying fundamental interactions of X-rays with atoms and small molecules (e.g., rare gases, nitrogen gas, carbon monoxide, Freons). These include the aforementioned photoelectric effect, but also photofragmentation of molecules (X-rays have enough energy to dissociate molecules), and X-ray fluorescence studies. Our most recent work has been on chiral species (molecules that have a left-handed and a right-handed version, such as some amino acids) and on developing a better understanding of the fundamental property of electronegativity.
Your plans for the next year
Over the next year, I will be on sabbatical, continuing my research at Berkeley, and will spend several months in Paris working with colleagues at the University Pierre and Marie Curie (UPMC). UPMC is one of the top 50 research universities in the world, so I feel very fortunate that they have honored me with a visiting faculty position during my time there. Outside of Paris is the French national synchrotron-radiation facility, SOLEIL, a newer and larger version of the ALS.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The great people I get to work with as colleagues and collaborators. The fact that scientific research that is pushing the envelope of our understanding never really gets boring - it is always fun to discover something new. And, of course, I enjoy traveling. I've been to six continents and about 25 countries to attend conferences and give professional presentations.
People would be surprised to know:
I am a huge live theater fan, including Shakespeare. As I travel to Berkeley regularly for my research, I have season subscriptions to two theaters in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Aside from travel and theater, I enjoy good food and wines. I am a member of a gourmet dinner group, and I have a fairly good wine collection. I also like to hike and walk.