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Martin McCoustra BSc, PhD, DSc, CChem, FRSC, CPhys, FInstP, FRAS


Chair in Chemical Physics

School of Engineering & Physical Sciences; Chemical Sciences

Phone: +44 (0)131 451 4292
  • Room G.29
    William Perkin Building
  • School of Engineering & Physical Sciences; Chemical Sciences
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • Edinburgh
  • EH14 4AS
  • United Kingdom
Martin McCoustra

Research profile

Roles and responsibilities
  • University, External Relations Committee, EPS Representative
  • University, Collections Committee, EPS Representative
  • University, Public Engagement Group, EPS Representative
  • University, China Strategy Implementation Group, EPS Representative
  • EPS, Member of the Teaching Executive Group
  • EPS, Undergraduate Strategy Coordinator
  • EPS, Outreach Group Member for Chemistry
  • Chemistry, Chair Teaching Laboratory Group
  • Chemistry, Outreach Coordinator

Surface Science

Surface science borders on chemistry, physics and engineering; and even strays into life and environmental sciences. Surface science underpins nanotechnology and its application. The methodologies in the surface science toolbox have broad application. Our research activities illustrates that breadth with activities stretching from understanding fundamental aspects of the chemical evolution of the Universe to developing new ambient environment methods for modifying and analysing surfaces.

1. Laboratory Astrochemistry of Surfaces and Solids

The Universe is molecular in nature. Molecules play a crucial role in controlling the evolution of the Universe but where do those molecules come from? In the last decade or so astronomers and astrophysicists have realised that surface and solid state chemistry is absolutely essential if the chemical diversity of the Universe is to be fully explained. Our work focuses on understanding the thermal, photochemical and radiation-induced processes that might be operating in astrophysical environments.

Figure 1. The Eagle Nebula, a dense active star-forming region of the Milky Way where surface and solid state processes are crucial to understanding the evolution of a rich chemical complexity.

2. Plasma-Surface Interactions: Surface Analysis and Modification

Ambient atmospheric plasmas are a complex environment offering unique opportunities. Our interest in such plasmas stems from developing a novel surface analytical technique known as PADI-MS (plasma assisted desorption/ionisation mass spectrometry). Our research focuses on understanding the processes underlying PADI-MS with the goal of improving its analytical utility in applications involving the analysis and modification of soft, organic surfaces including biological materials..

Figure 2. Illustrating the practical simplicity of PADI-MS! A plasma pencil irradiates a pharmaceutical tablet in front of a mass spectrometer inlet. It might look hot, but the blue “flame” in this image is safe to the touch.

3. Excitation Diffusion and Dissipation in Solids and at Surfaces

Molecules colliding with metal surfaces can undergo significant energy redistribution; energy can flow from translation to rovibrational degrees of freedom. Photons can excite molecules in solids and on surfaces electronically and vibrationally, energy can flow into translation (and vibration and rotation) as species desorb. Electrons and ions can promote electronic excitations in solids which can diffuse and dissipate energy into vibrations and translations. We can apply molecular beam and charged particle beam methods, state-resolved laser spectroscopy and mass spectrometry to investigate these fundamental processes.

Figure 3. Schematic diagrams of device structures for reaction nanodiodes suitable for investigating non-adiabaticity in surface reactions on carbon material surfaces. Upper device has a metal-semiconductor (Schottky) structure while the lower device has a metal-insulator-metal structure.


Selected publications
  1. 'Highly Efficient Electron-stimulated Desorption of Benzene from Amorphous Solid Water Ice', J.D. Thrower, M. P. Collings, F. J. M. Rutten and M. R. S. McCoustra, Chem. Phys. Lett., 2011, 505, 106-111.
  2. 'Photon- and Electron-stimulated Desorption from Laboratory Models of Interstellar Ice Grains', J. D. Thrower, A. G. M. Abdulgalil, M. P. Collings, and M. R. S. McCoustra, D. J. Burke, W. A. Brown, A. Dawes, P. J. Holtom, P. Kendall, N. J. Mason, F. Jamme, H. J. Fraser and F. J. M. Rutten, J. Vac. Sci. Technol. A, 2010, 28, 799-806.
  3. 'Thermal desorption of C6H6 from surfaces of astrophysical relevance', J. D. Thrower, M. P. Collings, F. J. M. Rutten and M. R. S. McCoustra, J. Chem. Phys., 2009, 131, 244711.
  4. 'Applying Laboratory Thermal Desorption Data in an Interstellar Context: Sublimation of Methanol Thin Films', S. D. Green, A. S. Bolina, R. Chen, M. P. Collings, W. A. Brown and M. R. S. McCoustra, Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 2009, 398, 357-367.
  5. 'Laboratory Investigations of the Interaction between Benzene and Bare Silicate Grain Surfaces', J. D. Thrower, M. P. Collings, F. J. M. Rutten and M. R. S. McCoustra, Mon. Not. Roy. Astron. Soc., 2009, 394, 1510-1518.
Further information