Scratching the Surface
John Russell ’81 honored for contributions to science
by MaryAlice Bitts
September 24, 2010
John Russell '81 was elected to the 2010 class of Fellows of the American Chemical Society, an internationally respected organization chartered by Congress.
John Russell ’81 was elected to the 2010 class of Fellows of the American Chemical Society (ACS), a nonprofit organization chartered by Congress and considered one of the world’s leading sources for scientific information. The title was bestowed in recognition of Russell's contributions to science, to his field and to the 161,000-member ACS.
“It was truly an honor to be recognized with so many people I respect and admire,” said Russell, who was acknowleged during an Aug. 23 ceremony in Boston.
The branch director at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) and author of much-cited publications, Russell is a respected leader in his field.
On the surface of things
Russell’s interest in scientific research sparked early in his academic career. He received a chemistry degree at Dickinson, then earned a doctorate in physical chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh and a postdoctoral fellowship at the Exxon Corporate Research Laboratory. Soon after, Russell joined the research staff at the NRL. He was named head of the NRL’s surface-chemistry branch in 2005.
In this capacity, Russell oversees a multidisciplinary research team that studies a wide range of chemical problems, including the use of 3-D nanoscale materials for energy storage, the chemical-vapor deposition of electronic materials and nanoscale lithography.
“We study what the surface properties of materials are and how to manipulate them,” Russell explained. “We’ve been working toward developing new materials and processes.”
Beyond the lab
While he is grateful for the science education he received at Dickinson, Russell emphasizes that the skills and interests he developed outside of the lab were also key to his success. “My liberal-arts education allows me to approach problems from a broader perspective and see how various concepts interrelate,” he said.
Those courses also aided him in writing about, and reporting on, new findings. In fact, Russell has authored and presented more than 80 technical publications, including one patent, and more than 50 research papers in peer-reviewed literature that have attracted more than 2,600 citations.
Russell also traces his commitment to civic involvement to his undergraduate days. A past Alumni Council vice president who was heavily involved in student government, the debate council and Greek life as an undergraduate, Russell has since served as American Vacuum Society (AVS) president and has presided on several ACS task forces and committees. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of the Encyclopedia of Surface and Colloid Science, and he chairs the ACS publications committee and the editorial board of Chemical and Engineering News.
“I’m a typical Dickinsonian, in that I’m very much involved in organizations I’m part of,” said Russell, who was named AVS research fellow in 2006. “Dickinson provides a wonderful environment for developing leadership skills.”
But his greatest rewards lie within his research. Russell is clearly energized by the prospect of discovering something new.
“What we’re studying has an impact on all aspects of daily life, from [advancing] technology used in flat-panel displays and electronic devices, to understanding how to engage bio-molecules to create a biological sensor, to learning about friction and wear on ball bearings,” he said. “When our research draws the attention of peers, and they begin to [build on it], that is the biggest flattery. It’s very gratifying.”