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NEWS | Feb. 21, 2010

Dr. James Butler Receives 2009 Hillebrand Prize

By Donna McKinney

Dr. James E. Butler has been chosen as the 2009 Hillebrand Prize awardee, the highest honor of the Chemical Society of Washington, for pioneering contributions to understanding the chemical vapor deposition of diamond and advocating the exploitation of diamond materials in advanced technologies. Butler heads the Gas/Surface Dynamics Section in the Naval Research Laboratory's Chemistry Division.

The Hillebrand Prize is recognized nationally as a mark of significant accomplishment in chemistry. Originated in 1924, it is named for Dr. William F. Hillebrand (1853 to 1925), an internationally recognized pioneer in analytical chemistry and one of Washington's most distinguished chemists. Many previous Hillebrand Prize winners have won numerous other national and international awards, including three who have received the Nobel Prize.

Butler is an international authority on the physical properties of diamond and the chemical vapor deposition (CVD) of diamond films, coatings and crystals. Consequently, he is known by his friends and colleagues around the world as Diamond Jim. His research has spanned a variety of fields, including gas phase and surface chemistries; materials and solid state sciences; as well as the electronic, tribological, and optical sciences of diamond materials.

The award recognizes Butler for 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 Reactive Ion Etching (RIE) process. Butler and his colleagues 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 in 1966 from The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a doctorate (1972) 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 to the study of elementary reaction dynamics, photochemistry, and gas phase chemical kinetics relevant to atmospheric and combustion chemistries. Following a sabbatical year at the Institute of Molecular Science in Japan (1982 to 1983), he used high resolution IR laser diode spectroscopy to examine 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, he formed the Gas/Surface Dynamics Section in the Surface Chemistry Branch of 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. His research efforts have primarily focused on understanding and exploiting the growth, characterization, properties, and applications of CVD diamond materials. Butler's most recent research attention has been on controlling the quality, e.g. defects and doping, in CVD diamonds. An interesting sidelight has been collaboration with colleagues at the Smithsonian Institution where they studied a rare collection of natural colored diamonds, including the famous Hope Diamond.

Butler has been a visiting scientist at the National Research Council of Canada (1982), the Institute of Molecular Science in Japan (1982 to 1983), the University of Witswatersrand in South Africa (1996), a Distinguished Lecturer in the Department on 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). Dr. Butler has published over 244 refereed journal papers (with over 6250 citations and an H factor of 45), and has given numerous plenary and invited technical presentations at professional society meetings, international conferences, and universities.

In addition to serving as technical advisor to ONR, SDIO, NSF, and DARPA on various diamond research initiatives, he has participated as an technical expert in a White House inquiry on controlling trade of conflict diamonds, served as a consultant to various companies in the industrial diamond industry, chaired a Gordon Research Conference on Diamond, participated in the organization of numerous international conferences, and serves on the advisory board for the journal Gems and Gemology. He was presented with the Sigma Xi NRL Edison Chapter Applied Science Award in 2001 and the NRL Technology Transfer Award in 2009.

Butler also serves as a voice for the diamond scientific community in the popular media, having had his work featured in print publications such as Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, and Wired Magazine. He also has discussed diamond materials applications and diamond CVD on several television programs, including Good Morning America, Nova Science Now, and National Geographic Naked Science, and a soon to appear Smithsonian Channel special on the Hope diamond. His Alchemy lectures over the last two decades have communicated the role of chemistry in modern electronics materials and fabrication.

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