Steven R. Higgins, Ph.D.

Professor of Chemistry and Associate Dean College of Science Mathematics
Oelman Hall 205, 3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy, Dayton, OH 45435-0001

Professional History
Professor, Chemistry Department, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, 2011-present
Associate Director, Environmental Sciences Ph.D. Program, Dayton, Ohio, 2007-present
Associate Professor, Chemistry Department, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, 2006-2011
Assistant Professor, Chemistry Department, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio, 2002-2006
Research Scientist, Dept. of Geology and Geophysics, University of Wyoming, 1997-2002

Academic Background
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dept. of Geology and Geophysics, University of Wyoming, 1996-1997
Ph. D., Analytical Chemistry, 1996, University of Wisconsin-Madison
B.A., Chemistry, 1991, Saint Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota

Research Interests:
My research interests cover a broad range of environmental, technological and fundamental problems at solid surfaces and are directed at understanding kinetics and thermodynamics of chemical reactions at solid-liquid interfaces.

Current Projects:
My current research projects focus on the study of interfacial chemical dynamics related to problems in environmental chemistry. Understanding the complex surface processes (e.g., diffusion, adsorption/desorption, dissolution/precipitation, and charge transfer reactions) that occur at the boundary between solid and fluid phases is the general goal of my laboratory experiments.

Complete Vita

Dr. Steven Higgins
205 Oelman Hall
Department of Chemistry
3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy.
Dayton, OH 45435

Voice: 937-775-2479
Fax: 937-775-2717



CHM 1010/1010L:  Introduction to Chemistry (3 cr)

CHM 1060/1060L:  Chemistry of Our World: Materials (4 cr)

CHM 3120: Quantitative Analysis (2 cr)

CHM 3190:  Chemistry Literature and Composition (2 cr)

CHM 4350L:  Instrumental Analysis Laboratory (3 cr)

CHM 6550:  Chemical Microscopy with Applications (2 cr)

Research Statement

Graduate (Ph.D.) Research Assistantships in Mineral-Water Interface Geochemistry

Funding is available in the Environmental Sciences Ph.D. Program and the Department of Chemistry at Wright State University in the area of mineral-fluid interface geochemistry.  Projects are interdisciplinary with collaborative opportunities at DOE National Labs. 

Graduate students will be conducting independent research under the direction of Prof. Steven Higgins on mineral dissolution and growth using scanning probe microscopy, x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and modern analytical chemical instrumentation.  Research projects will focus on fundamental and applied problems relevant to geologic CO2 sequestration and scale formation.  Projects involve collaborative efforts with scientists at Department of Energy (DOE) National Laboratories and opportunities to travel and work at DOE facilities will be available to graduate students.

Stipends for Ph.D. candidates are $22,660 (12 months) plus full tuition in 2017.  Applicants should hold or expect to earn a BA/BS in Chemistry, Physics, Earth Science, or a related discipline prior to starting in the program. Successful applicants may begin coursework and research at any time during 2018. 
To learn more about Wright State University and the Dayton, Ohio area, please visit Wright State University  To learn more about and/or apply for the PhD program in Environmental Sciences, please go to:
For more information, interested candidates should contact:
 Steven R. Higgins (
 Professor of Chemistry
 Associate Director - Environmental Science PhD Program
 Wright State University
 3640 Col. Glenn Hwy.
 Dayton, OH 45435
 Ph: 1-937-775-2479

Focus: Research in Solid-Liquid Interface Dynamics and Chemistry

Crystal Growth and Dissolution: A major project in my group will focus on understanding inorganic and bio-mineralization processes that influence the chemistry of fragile ecosystems such as those found in marine environments and will also have a direction toward understanding crystallization in solid-phase carbon management strategies and long-term radioactive waste immobilization. My approach to a better understanding of these problems will involve detailed in-situ Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) studies of heterogeneous kinetics under well-defined chemical and transport conditions. Since the quality and properties of many materials, and the heterogeneous kinetics of surface reactions depend on defect and impurity content, my research will provide a new level of understanding of the interaction and influence of inorganic as well as organic contaminants on processes ranging from surface dynamics of non-linear optical materials such as Potassium Dihydrogen Phosphate (KDP) to growth and dissolution kinetics of scaling minerals such as alkaline earth sulfates, phosphates, and carbonates and molecular-scale step dynamics and chemistry of solid surfaces. Of particular interest in my group is the study of crystal nucleation and growth phenomena with an emphasis currently on investigating non-classical nucleation of mineral phases (e.g., pre-nucleation clusters).  We utilize potentiometry and other traditional analytical chemistry techniques to acquire experimental evidence pertinent to the non-classical question.

Adsorption at Solid-Liquid Interfaces: Many problems in aqueous geochemistry, corrosion and scaling inhibition involve adsorptive interaction between organic molecules and solid surfaces. By choosing appropriate non-linearly active molecules, it is possible to determine adsorption free energies, and in some cases, information on the molecular orientation at the surface may be determined through optical second harmonic generation. It is my intent to utilize this surface sensitive approach to determine relationships between the concentration of adsorbed molecules and the kinetics of a particular process (i.e., dissolution, precipitation). This approach will incorporate a new hydrodynamic experimental design to ensure well-defined and controllable mass transport in these dynamic systems. With the fluid chemistry and transport conditions under experimental control and means for simultaneously characterizing the surface chemistry and reaction flux, this very powerful methodology can be utilized in the interrogation of specific heterogeneous reaction mechanisms.

Instrumentation: The observation of molecular scale reactions with scanning probe microscopy represents one of my key research areas. I have developed a Hydrothermal AFM (HAFM) that operates in highly corrosive fluids and significantly extends the pressure and temperature range of AFM technologies. There are two major reasons why this development is important to materials-related and environmental problems. First, in situ observations are usually required to describe the underlying mechanism in a reaction of interest. Second, the AFM is a valuable structural characterization tool, but has poor detection limits when used to observe dynamics. It is difficult to discuss mechanisms without kinetic experimental data to interrogate. To surmount this shortcoming of the AFM, elevated temperatures assist by accelerating heterogeneous reaction rates. My research will continue to push the limits of temperature and pressure in the AFM that will expand our research base to include studies under supercritical CO2, which is important in many materials formation processes and is gaining increased attention as a replacement for some organic solvents. With the capability to study surfaces with the AFM under supercritical fluids, we may begin to observe polymerization reactions in real time at the macromolecular level. These studies will be the first of their kind and may lead to a better understanding, and ultimately, a better control over the formation of new polymeric materials.


Publications in the Higgins Group Laboratory


Dickinson W.W., Aravind S.S.J., Higgins S.R., Berg S., Suijkerbuijk B.M. and Schniepp H.C. (2019) Using atomic force spectroscopy to study oil/mineral interactions at reservoir temperatures and pressures, Fuel, 259, 116194. 

Higgins S.R. and Bertagni A.L. (2019) Applications of SPM to Studies of Mineral-Water Interface Chemistry. Encyclopedia of Water: Science, Technology, and Society.

Weber J., Bracco J.N.,  Poplawsky J.D.,  Ievlev A.,  More K.L., Lorenz M., Bertagni A.L., Jindra S.A., Starchenko V., Higgins S.R. and Stack A.G. (2018) Unraveling the Effects of Strontium Incorporation on Barite Growth – In-situ and Ex-situ Observations using Multi-Scale Chemical Imaging, Crystal Growth and Design, 18, 5521-5533.

Brittle S.W., Foose D.P., O’Neil K.A., Sikon J.M., Johnson J.K., Stahler A.C., Ryan J., Higgins S.R., and Sizemore I.E. (2018) A Raman-based Imaging Method for Characterizing the Molecular Adsorption and Spatial Distribution of Silver Nanoparticles to Hydrated Mineral Surfaces. Environmental Science and Technology, 52, 2854–2862.

Jindra S.A., Bertagni A.L., Bracco J.N., and Higgins S.R. (2017) Hydrothermal Atomic Force Microscopy Investigation of Barite Growth: Role of Spectator Ions in Elementary Step Edge Growth Kinetics and Hillock Morphology, Crystal Growth and Design, 17, 6085–6095.

Bracco J. N., Gooijer Y. and Higgins S. R. (2016) Hydrothermal atomic force microscopy observations of barite step growth rates as a function of the aqueous barium-to-sulfate ratio.  Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 183, 1-13.

Bracco J. N., Gooijer Y. and Higgins S. R. (2016) Growth kinetics of step edges on celestite (001) surfaces as a function of temperature, saturation state, ionic strength, and aqueous strontium:sulfate ratio: An in-situ atomic force microscopy study.  Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 175, 222-238.

Huang H., Pavel Sizemore I., Higgins S. R. and Deibel J. (2016) Experimental Nanomaterials and Nanoscience: Synthesis, Characterization, and Applications - Teaching Nanotechnology through an Interdisciplinary Laboratory Course, Journal of Nano Education, 8, 52-62.

Chassé, Alexander; Ohno, Tsutomu; Higgins, Steven R.; Amirbahman, Aria; Yildirim, Nadir; Parr, Thomas (2015) Chemical Force Spectroscopy Evidence Supporting the Layer-by-Layer Model of Organic Matter Binding to Iron (oxy)hydroxide Mineral Surfaces.  Environmental Science and Technology, 49, 9733-9741.

Cubillas P., Hu X. and Higgins S.R. (2015) Strontium incorporation during calcite growth: Implications for chemical mapping using friction force microscopy. Chemical Geology, 411, 274-282.

Seth W. Brittle, Joshua D. Baker, Kevin M. Dorney, Jessica M. Dagher, Tala Ebrahimian, Steven R. Higgins, and Ioana E. Pavel Sizemore (2015) Measuring Silver Content of Nanocolloids by Inductively Coupled Plasma – Optical Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-OES): A Laboratory Experiment for Chemistry and Engineering Students. Journal of Chemical Education, 92, 1061–1065.

Bracco J. N., Stack A.G. and Higgins S. R. (2014) Magnesite step growth rates as a function of the aqueous magnesium-to-carbonate ratio. Crystal Growth and Design, 14, 6033-6040.

Smith M. E., Knauss K. G. and Higgins S. R. (2013) Effects of crystal orientation on the dissolution of calcite by chemical and microscopic analysis. Chemical Geology, 360-361, 10-21.

Barney, I. T., Lennaerts, D., Higgins, S. R. and Mukhopadhyay, S. M. (2012) Specific Surface Area of Hierarchical Graphitic Substrates Suitable for Multi-functional Applications. Materials Letters, 88, 160-163.

Xu M., Sullivan K., VanNess G., Knauss K.G. and Higgins S.R. (2012) Dissolution kinetics and mechanisms at dolomite-water interfaces: Effects of electrolyte specific ionic strength. Environmental Science and Technology, 47, 110-118.

Lea A.S., Higgins S.R., Knauss K.G. and Rosso K.M. (2011) A high-pressure atomic force microscope for imaging in supercritical carbon dioxide, Review of Scientific Instruments, 82, 043709 (7 pages).

Xu M. and Higgins S. R. (2011) Effects of magnesium ions on near-equilibrium calcite dissolution: Step kinetics and morphology. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 75, 719-733.

Xu M., Hu X., Knauss K.G. and Higgins S.R. (2010) Dissolution kinetics of calcite from 50-70 oC: An atomic force microscopic study under near-equilibrium conditions. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 74, 4285-4297.

Hu X., Cubillas P. and Higgins S. R. (2010) Properties of Ca-rich and Mg-rich carbonate films on dolomite: Implications for compositional surface mapping with scanning force microscopy. Langmuir, 26(7), 4769-4775.

Cubillas P. and Higgins S. R. (2009) Friction characteristics of Cd-rich carbonate films on calcite surfaces:  Implications for compositional differentiation at the nanometer scale. Geochemical Transactions, 10, 7.

Campbell, B. D., Hu, X., and Higgins, S. R. (2009) A computer program for automated step edge motion analysis from scanning probe microscopy images. Surface Science, 603, 1034-1040.

Rajasekhar V. Pulikollu, R. V., Higgins, S. R., and Mukhopadhyay, S. M. (2008) Model nucleation and growth studies of nanoscale oxide coatings suitable for modification of microcellular and nano-structured carbon.  Surface Coatings and Technology, 203, 65-72.

Bose, S., Hu, X., and Higgins, S. R. (2008) Dissolution kinetics and topographic relaxation on celestite (001) surfaces:  The effect of solution saturation state studied using Atomic Force Microscopy.  Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 72, 759-770.

Higgins, S. R., Hu, X., and Fenter, P. (2007) A quantitative lateral force microscopy study of the dolomite (104)-water interface, Langmuir, 23, 8909-8915.

Fenter, P., Zhang, Z., Park, C., Sturchio, N.C., and Higgins, S.R. (2007) Structure and Reactivity of the Dolomite (104)-Water Interface: New Insights into the Dolomite Problem, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 71, 566-579.

Hu, X., Joshi, P., Mukhopadhyay, S. M. and Higgins, S. R.  (2006) X-ray photoelectron spectroscopic studies of dolomite surfaces exposed to undersaturated and supersaturated aqueous solutions, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 70, 3342-3350.

Higgins S. R. and Hu X. (2006) Near molecular-scale growth of natural minerals:  Experimental methods and errors in length-dependent step speeds with scanning probe microscopy.  Journal of Electron Spectroscopy and Related Phenomena, 150, 235-247.

Joshi, P. P., Pulikollu, R., Higgins, S. R., Hu, X., Mukhopadhyay, S. M. (2006) Investigation of growth, coverage and effectiveness of plasma assisted nano-films of fluorocarbon, Applied Surface Science, 252, 5676-5686.

Higgins S. R. and Hu X. (2005) Self-limiting growth on dolomite:  Experimental observations with in-situ atomic force microscopy. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 69, 2085-2094.

Hu X., Grossie D. A., and Higgins S. R. (2005) Growth and dissolution kinetics at the dolomite-water interface: An in-situ scanning probe microscopy study. American Mineralogist, 90, 963-968.

Higgins S. R., Hu X., Knauss K. G. (2004) Kinetics of Elementary Steps on Cleaved Dolomite Surfaces in Undersaturated Alkaline Aqueous Solutions in Water-Rock Interaction, Wanty R. B. and Seal R. R., eds., Taylor and Francis Group:London, 757-761.

Knauss K. G., Eggleston C. M., Greer B, Higgins S. R. (2004) Coupled carbonate mineral dissolution and growth: reactive transport experiments and modeling of calcite dissolution and strontianite growth in Water-Rock Interaction, Wanty R. B. and Seal R. R., eds., Taylor and Francis Group: London, 555-559.

Higgins S. R., Boram L. H., Eggleston C. M., Coles B. A., Compton R. G. and Knauss K. G. (2002) Dissolution kinetics, step and surface morphology of magnesite (104) surfaces in acidic aqueous solution at 60 oC by atomic force microscopy under defined hydrodynamic conditions, Journal of Physical Chemistry B, 106, 6696-6705.

Eggleston C. M., Stack A. G., Rosso K. M., Higgins S. R., Bice A. M., Boese S. W., Pribyl R. D., and Nichols J. J. (2003)  The structure of hematite (a-Fe2O3) (001) surfaces in aqueous media: Scanning tunneling microscopy and resonant tunneling calculations of coexisting O and Fe terminations, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 67, 985-1000.

Stack A. G., Higgins S. R., and Eggleston C. M. (2003) Response to Comment on "Point of Zero Charge of a Corundum-Water Interface Probed with Optical Second Harmonic Generation (SHG) and Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM):  New Approaches to Oxide Surface Charge", Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 67, 321-322.

Higgins S. R., Stack A. G., Knauss K. G., Eggleston C. M., and Jordan G. (2002) Probing molecular scale adsorption and dissolution-growth processes using nonlinear optical and scanning probe methods suitable for hydrothermal applications. In Water-Rock Interactions, Ore Deposits, and Environmental Geochemistry:  A Tribute to David A. Crerar, Special Publication No. 7 (ed. R. Hellmann and S. A. Wood), pp. 111-128. The Geochemical Society.

Stack A., Higgins S. R. and Eggleston C. M. (2001)  Point of zero charge of a corundum-water interface probed with optical second harmonic generation (SHG) and atomic force microscopy (AFM):  Non-stoichiometric approaches to oxide surface charge, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 65, 3055-3063.

Jordan G., Higgins S. R., Eggleston C. M., Knauss K. G. and Schmahl W. W. (2001) Dissolution kinetics of magnesite in acidic aqueous solution, a hydrothermal atomic force microscopy (HAFM) study:  Step orientation and kink dynamics.  Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 65, 4257-4266.

Higgins S. R., Jordan G., and Eggleston C. M. (2002) Dissolution kinetics of magnesite in acidic aqueous solution, a hydrothermal atomic force microscopy (HAFM) study assessing step kinetics and dissolution flux. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 66, 3201-3210.

Higgins S. R., Bosbach D., Eggleston C. M. and Knauss K. G. (2000)  Kink dynamics and step growth on barium sulfate (001):  A hydrothermal atomic force microscopy study, Journal of Physical Chemistry B, 104, 6978-6982.

Jordan G., Higgins S. R., Eggleston C. M., Swapp S. M., Janney D. M. and Knauss K. G.  (1999)  Acidic dissolution of plagioclase.  In-situ observations by hydrothermal scanning force microscopy.  Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 63, 3183-3191.

Higgins S. R., Eggleston C. M., Knauss K. G. and Boro C. O. (2002)  A hyperbaric hydrothermal flow-through fluid cell atomic force microscope.  Patent # 6,437,328.

Eggleston C. M., Higgins S. R. and Maurice P.  (1998) Scanning Probe Microscopy of Environmental Interfaces.  Environmental Science and Technology, 32, 456A-459A.

Higgins S. R., Jordan G., Eggleston C. M. and Knauss K. G.  (1998)  Dissolution kinetics of the barium sulfate (001) surface by hydrothermal atomic force microscopy.  Langmuir, 14, 4967-4971.

Higgins S. R., Eggleston C. M., Jordan G., Knauss K. G. and Boro C. O.  (1998)  In-situ observation of oxide and silicate mineral dissolution by hydrothermal scanning force microscopy:  Initial results for hematite and albite.  Mineralogical Magazine , 62, 618-619.

Jordan G., Higgins S. R., Eggleston C. M., Knauss K. G., and Boro C. O.  (1998)  Dissolution of barite(001) observed by hydrothermal scanning force microscopy.  Mineralogical Magazine , 62, 725-726.

Jordan G., Higgins S. R. and Eggleston C. M.  (1998)  Dissolution of the periclase (001) surface.  A scanning force microscope study.  American Mineralogist, 84, 144-151.

Higgins S. R., Eggleston C. M., Knauss K. G. and Boro C. O. (1998)  A hydrothermal atomic force microscope for imaging in aqueous solution up to 150 oC.  Review of Scientific Instruments , 69, 2994-2998.

Higgins S. R., Stack A., Eggleston C. M. and dos Santos Afonso M.  (1998)  Proton and ligand adsorption at silica- and alumina-water interfaces studied by optical second harmonic generation (SHG).  Mineralogical Magazine , 62, 616-617.

Higgins S. R. and Hamers R. J. (1996) Chemical dissolution of the galena(001) surface observed using electrochemical scanning tunneling microscopy.  Geochimica et  Cosmochimica Acta 60, 3067-3073.

Higgins S. R. and Hamers R. J. (1996) Morphology and dissolution processes of metal sulfide minerals observed with the electrochemical scanning tunneling microscope. Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology B 14, 1360-1364.

Hamers R. J., Chen X., Frank E. R., Higgins S. R., Shan J., and Wang Y. (1996) Atomically-resolved investigations of surface reaction chemistry by scanning tunneling microscopy. Israel Journal of Chemistry  36, 11-24.

Higgins S. R. and Hamers R. J. (1995) Spatially-resolved electrochemistry of the lead sulfide (galena) (001) surface by electrochemical scanning tunneling microscopy. Surface Science 324, 263-281.

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