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Robert Szilagyi
Montana State University

Research Activities

My primary goal is to contribute to the molecular understanding of the Hadean transition between what we consider non-living and living chemical components/building blocks using experimental and theoretical modeling approaches. Part of my research group is focusing on developing spectroscopic and computational modeling tools toward this goal. We synthesize small inorganic compounds, generate modified mineral surfaces, ordered particles, and amorphous precipitates as experimental models for the most likely chemical systems that we need to consider to describe chemically the Hadean conditions of lytho-, hydro-, and even atmospheres. We are a strong proponent of considering interfacial phenomena where catalytic transformations can take place efficiently (rate), and in preferable abundance (driving force). These synthetic systems are being probed by synchrotron-radiation enabled spectroscopic techniques. In particularly X-rays are capable of providing atomic scale information about both the geometric and electronic structures of the molecules. These experimental results combined with thermodynamic and kinetic information from the literature are brought together with computational modeling. The virtual chemical models for particle and mineral surfaces provide us a means to understand and interpret the experimental results. Even more importantly, we can use spectroscopically calibrated and experimentally validated levels of theory to provide predictions a priori to any experimental method and thus guide our wet laboratory work. During my group’s tenure as part of ABRC and the bigger NAI community, we wish to draw attention to the power of combined experimental and theoretical work that are carried out with great rigor, care, and high scientific fidelity and advocate that studies like these can provide us the key insights into the tantalizing transition that likely took place during the Hadean eon of Earth history and enabled life on our planet.

Selected Publications

Che Li, Gardenghi D.J., Szilagyi R.K., Minton T.K. Production of a Biomimetic Fe(I)-S Phase on Pyrite by Atomic Hydrogen Beam Surface Reactive Scattering Langmuir, 2011, 27(11), 6814-6821

Singireddy S, Gordon A.D., Smirnov A., Vance, M.A., Schoonen M.A.A., Szilagyi R.K., Strongin D.R. Reduction of Nitrite and Nitrate to Ammonium on Pyrite Astrobiology, 2011, submitted for publication

NAI Project Collaborators