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John Larese

John Z. Larese



Surface Structure and Dynamics

I have studied a wide range of physical and chemical phenomena that take place at solid surfaces. These investigations mainly focus on the structure and dynamics of small molecules adsorbed on the basal plane of graphite, magnesium oxide and boron nitride. The experiments we performed used an array of sophisticated experimental techniques like x-ray and neutron diffraction and inelastic neutron spectroscopy. These studies are fascinating to me because I can examine how the physics and chemistry that takes place in two dimensions (2D) differs from that in three dimensions (3D). In some cases it is possible to follow how the rules that govern the 2D phenomena evolve toward those we are most familiar with in 3D. These surface studies are relevant to a number of important technologies such as gas separation and storage, heterogeneous catalysis, lubrication and microelectronics. I'm particularly interested in how the physical and chemical properties of finely divided particles with well-defined surface morphology vary depending on the size of the particle. Our current research can be divided into two broad areas: the surface physics and chemistry of small molecular films on pure and doped metal oxide surfaces and the synthesis of pure and doped, mono-dispersed, metal oxide particles with novel chemical, magnetic, physical, electronic or mechanical properties from a few nanometers to microns in length.

Adsorption, Structure and Dynamics

These studies rely upon our ability to perform combined thermodynamic (adsorption isotherm) and X-ray/neutron diffraction and neutron spectroscopy to probe the surfaces of well-characterized particles under realistic or "real-world" conditions. This is especially important in our studies of chemically active systems (like SO2 and H2S adsorption) because the chemistry of such systems is performed under conditions that are technologically relevant. It is reasonable to assume that very different results when studies in ultrahigh vacuum are used to "model" real catalytic processes. We have for example elucidated the surface chemistry of SO2 on MgO surfaces a technologically important process used in atmospheric pollution control and are presently extending these studies to systems of similar importance.

Synthesis of Novel Metal Oxides

We are also studying the physical, chemical and hydrodynamic principles that govern the production of metal oxide particles of controlled size and chemical composition using a novel process that Walter Kunnmann (Brookhaven National Laboratory, retired) and I have recently developed and received a US patent for. At UT/ORNL, we are currently investigating the production and control of nanometer sized whiskers and wires of semiconductors and insulators with interesting chemical optical and electronic properties. The long-range goal of these studies is to develop a sound scientific basis for the development of novel, advanced materials synthesis and control.


John Z. Larese received his Ph.D. degree in physics from Wesleyan University, where he studied adsorbed hydrocarbon films on graphite using pulse -NMR techniques with R. J. Rollefson.   As an NSF postdoctoral fellow at Penn State University he worked with the late D. R. Frankl using helium atom scattering techniques to study the structure and dynamics of atomic films on alkali halide, metal oxide and graphite surfaces. It was during this period that he first became interested in surface diffraction and diffusion. In 1985, Larese joined Brookhaven National Laboratory, where as a senior scientist he led the Materials Chemistry-Neutron Scattering group and continued to pursue his interests in surface adsorption and the properties of materials employing neutron scattering methods.  In 2001, he joined the Chemistry faculty at the University of Tennesee as a Professor with a joint appointment at ORNL.  Larese was the driving force and PI for the VISION neutron vibrational spectrometer now operating at the Spallation Neutron Source. In November 2014 he was elected a fellow of the AAAS.


Ph.D., Wesleyan University (1982)

Awards and Recognitions

DOE BES Sustained Outstanding Research Award
DOE BES Outstanding Accomplishment Award
AAAS Fellow


Pentane Adsorbed on MgO(100) Surfaces: A Thermodynamic, Neutron, and Modeling Study. Richard E. Cook, Thomas Arnold, Nicholas Strange, Mark Telling and J. Z. Larese, J. Phys. Chem. C 2015, 119 (1), pp 332–339.

Thermodynamic and Modeling Study of Thin n-Heptane Films Adsorbed on Magnesium Oxide (100) Surfaces. D. Fernández-Cañoto and J. Z. Larese. J. Phys. Chem. C 2014, 118 (7), 3451–3458.

Inelastic Neutron Scattering (INS) Observations of Rotational Tunneling within Partially Deuterated Methane Monolayers Adsorbed on MgO(100) Surfaces. A. Hicks and J. Z. Larese. Chemical Phys. 427, 71-81 (2013).

Initial Stages of Square Lattice Stacks of CH4/MgO(100). L. W. Bruch and J. Z. Larese. Phys. Rev.B 85, 035401-035408 (2012).

Investigation of the Behavior of Ethylene Molecular Films using High-Resolution Adsorption Isotherms and Neutron Scattering. A. Barbour, M. Telling, and J. Z. Larese. Langmuir 26, 8113-8121 (2010).

Neutron Investigations of Rotational Motions in Monolayer and Multilayer Films at the Interface of MgO and Graphite Surfaces. J.Z. Larese, T. Arnold, A. Barbour and L.R. Frazier, Langmuir 25, 4078-4083 (2009).

Direct Observation of H2 Binding to a Metal Oxide Surface. J. Larese, T. Arnold, L. Frazier, R. Hinde and A. Ramirez-Cuesta, Phys. Rev. Lett. 101, 165302 (2008).

Electronic Structure Investigation of Surface−Adsorbate and Adsorbate−Adsorbate Interactions in Multilayers of CH4 on MgO(100). M.L. Drummond, B.G. Sumpter, W.A. Shelton and J.Z. Larese, J. Phys. Chem. C 2007, 111(1), pp 966-976. Cover Article

Neutron Scattering. J.Z. Larese in Applications of Physical Methods to Inorganic and Bioinorganic Chemistry, R.A. Scott and C.M. Lukehart, eds. (Wiley, 2007).

Structure of an n -butane monolayer adsorbed on magnesium oxide (100). T. Arnold, S. Chanaa, S.M. Clarke, R.E. Cook and J.Z. Larese, Phys. Rev. B 74, 085421 (2006).

Novel method for the generation of high density (pure and doped) magnesium vapors which bypass the liquidus phase. W. Kunnmann and J.Z. Larese, U.S. Patent No. 6,179,897 (granted January 30, 2001).

Additional Information

Lab Address: JIAM

JIAM and JINS Faculty, Physical Division Spokesperson

John Larese

Contact Information

  • 619 Buehler Hall
  • 1316 Circle Drive
  • Knoxville, TN 37996-1600
  • Phone: 865-974-3429
  • E-mail:

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