NEWS | May 26, 2010

NRL's James Butler Receives Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award

By Donna McKinney

Dr. James E. Butler, who recently retired from the Naval Research Laboratory, has received the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award. Butler is recognized for his sustained exemplary contributions in advancing the science and technology of diamond growth and characterization.

Butler has been at the forefront and a leader in researching and communicating the role of chemistry in the development of modern electronic technologies since the early 1980's. He exploited the use of in situ laser diagnostics to study the gas phase and surface chemistries occurring in the Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) and Reactive Ion Etching (RIE)/processing of electronic materials. Internationally known by his friends and colleagues as Diamond Jim, Butler is a recognized authority on the physical properties of diamond and the chemical vapor deposition of diamond films, coatings and crystals. His research has employed or developed expertise in a variety of fields, including gas phase and surface chemistries; materials and solid state sciences; as well as electronic, tribological, and optical sciences.

Butler and his colleagues focused on developing a holistic understanding of the mechanisms of CVD, and in particular, diamond growth, which has the complexity to serve as a model for any CVD or RIE process. They exploited in situ laser diagnostics and surface chemistry, defect and impurity analysis, measurement of materials properties, and atomistic and engineering modeling to develop what is now known as the standard model of diamond CVD. This standard model explains the multiple roles of atomic hydrogen in the stabilization and growth of diamond from gas phase reactants under what appear to be conditions where diamond is thermodynamically metastable. This understanding forms the scientific and technological basis for current international commercial efforts exploiting CVD diamond materials in a wide range of technologies.

Butler received a bachelor's degree in chemical physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a doctorate in chemical physics from the University of Chicago under the direction of Professor Clyde Hutchison, Jr. After a NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Chicago, Butler joined NRL in 1975 where he applied laser spectroscopy in the study of elementary reaction synthetics, photochemistry, and gas phase chemical kinetics relevant to atmospheric and combustion chemistries. Following a sabbatical year at the Institute of Molecular Science in Japan in 1982 to 1983, he used a high-resolution IR laser diode spectroscopy in the study of reactive transient molecules relevant to plasma processing and CVD. His work on the use of in situ laser diagnostics to the gaseous and surface processes in CVD initiated the field for reactive chemical modeling of CVD processes (1983 to 1986). Beginning in 1987, Butler focused his attention on understanding the growth chemistry and mechanisms of the newly reported CVD of diamond.

In 1988, Butler formed the Gas/Surface Dynamics Section in the Surface Chemistry Branch at NRL to focus on the basic gaseous and surface chemical processes occurring in the CVD and plasma processing of materials relevant to modern advanced technologies. As head of the section, Butler led a multidisciplinary research effort focused on the CVD of electronic materials. His research encompassed studies of the growth, characterization, manipulation, and application of CVD diamond materials for national security and defense applications. His aim was to understand the chemical processes that occurred at the solid-gas interfaces during the growth and etching of materials, particularly those that are critical for chemical vapor deposition and plasma etching processes of diamond materials.

Butler was a visiting scientist at the National Research Council of Canada (1982), the Institute of Molecular Science in Japan (1982 to 1983), The University of Witwatersrand in South Africa (1996), a Distinguished Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota (1996), the Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor of Physics and Chemistry at the University of Bristol in England (1997), the University of Melbourne in Australia (2006), and the University of Warwick in England (2007, 2009).

Butler has published over 280 refereed journal papers (with over 6275 citations and an H factor of 45). He has given numerous plenary and invited technical presentations at professional society meetings, international conferences, and universities.

Butler's awards and recognitions include a NASA Traineeship,1967; NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship, 1972; election as Full Member of Sigma XI, 1980; Alan Berman Research Publication Award, 1986; NRL Invention Award, 1989; Naval Research Laboratory Special Act Award - Technology Transfer, 1995; Sigma Xi- Applied Science Award, NRL Edison Chapter, 2001; 2007 Materials Letters recognized one of his papers as one of the top 25 papers in the first 25 years of journal; appointed to Editorial Review Board of Gems and Gemology, the quarterly journal of the Gemological Institute of America; NRL Technology Transfer Award, 2009; and The Hillebrand Prize, the most prestigious honor given by the Chemical Society of Washington, 2009.