Awardee Interviews | Biography: Max G. Lagally

Max G. Lagally

Markus ValtinerMax G. Lagally, University of Wisconsin, Madison, “for outstanding contributions to the quantitative understanding of defects with respect to ordering and growth of surface structures.”

Dr. Lagally received his B.S. degree in physics from the Pennsylvania State university in 1963 and his Ph.D degree in solid-state physics from the University of Wisconsin in 1968.  He then spent 15 months as a visiting fellow at the Fritz-Haber Institut in Berlin, Germany, before returning to the University of Wisconsin, where he became assistant professor of materials science in 1971. 

He began his scientific career as a high school student working in the laboratories of Erwin Mueller, the inventor of the field ion microscope and the first recipient of the Welch award.  One of the Lagally’s initial tasks as a laboratory was construction of a cork ball model of a metal tip and painting with fluorescent paint those atoms that would be visible in a field-ion-microscope image.  This work of art graced a wall of the Field Emission Laboratory at Penn state for many years and appeared in several of the Dr. Mueller’s publications.

Dr. Lagally has been interested in surfaces since then.  During the late 60’s, he began investigations using low-energy electron diffraction (LEED), which was then being “rediscovered”, one of the early beneficiaries of the rapid improvements in ultrahigh-vacuum technology occurring during those years.  From the start, but increasingly so in 1970’s, he was interested in developing surface-sensitive diffraction as a tool to investigate surface structural disorder, to expand its use beyond the more conventional applications of determining surface atom positions and lattice constants.  He and his students were responsible for many of the key advances that have now made LEED and related diffraction methods quantitative tools for investigating such aspects of surface structural disorder as steps and and islands on surfaces, phase transitions in two dimensions, and crystal growth and ordering at surfaces.  As a result of his work, the need for higher resolving power in diffractometers became evident.  He contributed to the evolution of instrumentation through design and construction of advanced diffractometers, resulting in present-day resolvable distances measured in many thousands of Angstroms, rather than a few hundred.  As a consequence of his efforts extending over 20 years, Lagally is considered the leading expert in surface structural disorder and its diffraction analysis.

Dr. Lagally’s initial applications of LEED disorder analysis were to chemisorption on metals.  In this field, he made seminal contributions to the understanding of phase transitions in chemisorbed layers and later to the kinetics of ordering of submonolayers.  He subsequently turned his interests to semiconductor surfaces, on which he has for some years now explored both static and dynamic structural disorder.  The invention of the scanning tunneling microscope provided a new and powerful tool for such investigations.  Although he was not one of the earliest STM practitioners, Lagally’s background in the thermodynamics and kinetics of ordering processes, gained through his diffraction studies, allowed him quickly to establish the leading position in the use of STM to investigate mechanisms of crystal growth at surfaces.  These elegant experiments have provided the first quantitative atomistic information on diffusion, on nucleation and initial growth of films, on mechanisms of transport over and interaction with steps, and on the energetics of steps and islands on surfaces. 

His work on ordering and growth led in the late 80’s to an extension of the use of diffraction methods to study structural disorder at interfaces analogous to his earlier work on surfaces.  His present work continues his interests in exploring disorder in surfaces and films through the imaginative combination of diffraction and STM, and in developing structures and devices based on surface morphological features.

Besides his research, Lagally also has a major interest in science education, especially for kids.  He has for a number of years taught a summer course on “High-Tech Materials” to 4th and 5th graders, and has developed an after-school science club and science fair at a local middle-school, as well developed a university course to design science teaching kits for the middle-school level.
Dr. Lagally is presently John Bascom Professor at the University of Wisconsin, with joint appointments in the department to Materials Science and Engineering and the Department of Physics.  He has authored over 150 publications, six disclosures, applications, or issued patents, and has edited or co-edited two books.  His accomplishments have been recognized internally at the University of Wisconsin through award of the Romnes Fellowship (1976), the Bascom Professorship (1986), and Byron Byrd Award for Excellence in Research (1989); and externally through his election as Fellow of the American Physical Society (1980) and of the Australian Physical Society (1988), his appointment as Gordon Godfrey Visiting Professor at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, (1987), and the recent award of a Humboldt Senior Research Fellowship..

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