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Dr E.H.G. Backus (1978) has been named professor by special appointment of Non-Linear Spectroscopy of Surfaces and Interfaces at the University of Amsterdam (UvA)'s Faculty of Science. This chair was designated on behalf of the Science Plus Foundation (Stichting Bèta Plus).

Credits: Dirk Gillissen

Ellen Backus is recognised internationally as an expert on water dynamics and surface spectroscopy. She studies the structure and dynamics of water at interfaces. This involves sum-frequency generation, a method used in non-linear optics to generate specific information about molecules at an interface. Her research focuses on a number of areas, including clarification of the mechanism underlying the production of hydrogen with photocatalytic materials, the orientation of water and biological molecules on surfaces, the surface structure of ice and the bonding of molecules on ice.

Soft matter and biological systems

In her capacity as professor by special appointment at the UvA, Backus will contribute to research on surface-specific phenomena in soft condensed matter and biological systems. Aided by laser-based spectroscopic techniques, she studies surface organisation and dynamics and surface processes (biomembranes, for example).

The special chair is attached to the Institute of Physics (IoP), which is part of the UvA. Backus will be involved in research currently being carried out on Soft Matter, which is the priority area for the faculty, and, as such, serve as a bridge between the IoP, the Van 't Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences (HIMS) and the FOM Institute AMOLF, amongst other organisations.


In the academic year ahead, Backus will deliver a teaching module within the Soft and Porous Materials course offered by the Physics & Astronomy Master's programme. Backus will also be involved in the development of the new Fluids and Soft Matter course, to be offered to Bachelor-level Physics and Astronomy students.

About Backus

Backus will combine her post as professor by special appointment with her position of research leader at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPIP) in Mainz (Germany), where she has worked since 2012. During her time at the MPIP, Backus has worked on a number of joint research projects with the UvA.

Before she joined the MPIP, Backus was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zurich and a senior postdoctoral researcher at the FOM Institute AMOLF. Backus studied Chemistry at the UvA and obtained her doctorate for research on the surface dynamics of molecules.

She has received various research grants, including a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) in 2013 and a Veni grant from NWO in 2008, and she has published dozens of scientific publications in prominent journals, including Science, Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, Journal of the American Chemical Society and the international edition of Angewandte C