Diehl honored with the American Physical Society Woman Physicist of the Month

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Renee Diehl, a professor of physics at Penn State, has been honored with the Woman Physicist of the Month award by the American Physical Society. The award recognizes "female physicists who have positively impacted other individuals' lives and careers."

Diehl studies the fundamental structure and dynamics of surfaces. Much of her early work concentrated on the properties of simple atoms, such as xenon or potassium, on the surfaces of single crystals. She and her research group performed the first experiments to determine the locations of such atoms on certain metal surfaces, such as copper and platinum. Before these experiments, the rule of thumb was that atoms on surfaces typically sit in hollows between surface atoms, much like a second layer of billiard balls stacks on the first. Diehl's group established that this arrangement is not always the case, and that atoms often sit in locations that originally were believed to be extremely unlikely, such as directly on top of another atom. These findings, which demonstrated that interactions at surfaces are not as simple as once supposed, have provided an important stimulus for the development of new theoretical techniques that will provide a deeper understanding of surface phenomena. More recently, she has extended her research to more complex materials such as quasicrystals, whose structures are geometrically fascinating and which offer intriguing possibilities for practical use in applications ranging from cellphone electronics to frying-pan coatings.

Diehl's previous awards include a Fulbright Fellowship in 2006. As part of her fellowship, Diehl spent six months at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, where she focused on the use of high-energy-resolution atomic-beam scattering to study the fundamental properties of new materials. Diehl also received a Juniata College Distinguished Alumni and Outstanding Science Alumni Award in 2007, an Outstanding Service Award from the Women in the Sciences and Engineering (WISE) Institute at Penn State in 2006 and a Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal for Outstanding Research in 2004. She was named an honorary member of Sigma Delta Epsilon National Association for Graduate Women in Science in 2001 and was elected Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1999. She received a Distinguished Service Award from the American Association of Physics Teachers in 1999 and the Provost's Collaborative and Curricular Innovations Award in 1997.

Diehl is the current associate department head for equity and diversity in the Department of Physics at Penn State and the director of the CarbonEARTH project, which trains graduate students in science and engineering to communicate with diverse audiences. In addition, she serves on the executive committee of the American Physical Society Forum on Education and the American Physical Society Committee on Education. She has served on the executive board of the Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter and she was elected a Fellow of the United Kingdom Institute of Physics in 2003.

Diehl joined Penn State in 1990 and was named full professor in 1998. She earned a doctoral degree in physics at the University of Washington in 1982, a bachelor's degree in physics at Juniata College in 1976 and she graduated from Shippensburg High School in 1973.

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Last Updated September 23, 2013