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Sylvia T. Ceyer named head of Department of Chemistry

The specialist in surface science will succeed Timothy Swager, effective July 1
Sylvia T. Ceyer
Sylvia T. Ceyer

Sylvia T. Ceyer, the J. C. Sheehan Professor of Chemistry, will begin her new role as head of the Department of Chemistry on July 1, 2010. Ceyer will succeed current department head, Timothy Swager. Professor John Essigmann will join her as associate department head.

"Professor Ceyer is distinguished for her research in surface science, is recognized at MIT for her outstanding classroom teaching and has an exceptional record of service, both at MIT and on the national scene," said Marc Kastner, dean of the School of Science. "I look forward to working closely with her in her new position as head of chemistry."

Ceyer will succeed current department head, Timothy Swager. "Tim has been an energetic and creative department head, and I am grateful to him for serving the chemistry department so well for the past five years," said Dean Kastner.

Professor Ceyer's current research explores the dynamics of reactions between molecules and solid surfaces, specializing in the use of ultra-high vacuum molecular beam scattering techniques.  She has uncovered the physical origins of the lack of surface reactivity under ultra-high vacuum conditions and then used that knowledge to effect high-pressure heterogeneous catalytic reactions in an ultrahigh vacuum environment where microscopic reaction steps can be discerned. Her research also focuses on the conversion of natural gas to usable fuels and understanding the fundamental mechanisms for plasma etching of semiconductors.

"It is my goal to further the Department of Chemistry's commitment to outstanding chemical research and education as set by a long line of distinguished department heads and faculty," said Ceyer. "Working with John Essigmann as associate head offers a unique opportunity to build a strong alliance between science and engineering," she added.

Ceyer's achievements in teaching, research, and service have earned her numerous awards, including the Gibbs Medal, Hope College Distinguished Alumni Award, the first W.M. Keck Foundation Professorship in Energy, Nobel Laureate Signature Award for Graduate Education, Baker Award for Undergraduate Teaching, School of Science Teaching Prize, Arthur Smith Award, and a MacVicar Teaching Fellowship. Ceyer is chair of the Physical and Mathematical Sciences Class of the National Academy of Sciences and former chair of its chemistry section, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is a member of the Basic Energy Sciences Advisory Committee for the Department of Energy and served as associate editor of Physical Review Letters. Before joining the MIT Department of Chemistry in 1981, Professor Ceyer received her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley and worked at the National Bureau of Standards as a post-doctoral fellow.

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