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Personal profile

Research interests

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 illustrate 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.


2. Understanding Dipole Oriented Molecular Solids - Spontelectrics

Spontelectrics are the first new solid phase discovered in nearly 100 years. These novel materials grown by deposition of simple dipolar molecules spontaneously dipole orient and consequently display strong electric field. Our group has been closely tied with the group in Denmark that discovered this phenomenon and have developed spectroscopic probes to identify spontelectric behaviour. We are now working with our Danish colleagues and others across the UK to understand why these materials behave in this manner and how they might be applied.


3. Plasma-Surface Interactions for 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 the interaction of plasmas with surfaces. There are several goals in this work; improving the analytical utility of PADI-MS in the analysis of soft, organic surfaces including biological materials; developing methods to modify the surfaces of soft materials; and investgating approaches to polymer recylcing as part of the COMPASS (http://www.compass.hw.ac.uk) collaboration at Heriot-Watt University. 


4. Energy Dissipation and Redistribution at Metal Surfaces

Molecules colliding with metal surfaces can undergo significant energy redistribution; energy can flow from translation to rovibrational degrees of freedom. Energy in molecular rotational and vibrational motion close to a metal surface can be dissipated by non-adiabatic processes involving the metal conduction band electrons. Likewise, relaxation of vibrationally excited molecules adsorbed on surfaces is dissipated by non-adiabatic processes.  These relaxtion proceeses can have a significant impact on the chemistry of scattered and adsorbed molecules. In the past, we have investigated aspects of the the former using molecular beams and state-resolved laser spectroscopy. Now, we are looking to develop studies of the latter in collaboration with colleagues in the UK and at the FELIX light source in the Netherlands. 

Key Research Words/Phrases

Surface Science; Surface Analysis; Surface Chemistry and Physics; Dynamics and Kinetics of Surface Processes; Plasma-Surface Interactions; Laboratory Astrochemistry and Astrophysics; Solids and Surfaces; Molecular Solids and Surfaces; Water; Metal Surfaces; Oxide Surfaces; Electron-, Photon- and Ion-surface Interactions; COMPASS


University Education

Department of Chemistry, Heriot-Watt University, EDINBURGH,EH14 4AS 

Degree Awarded

Date of Award


November 2003


July 1987

BSc in Chemistry with First Class Honours

July 1983

Previous Employment



Dates Held

Chair in Chemical Physics

School of Chemistry,

University of Nottingham,


January 2006 – July 2006

Reader in Chemical Physics

School of Chemistry,

University of Nottingham,


August 2003 – December 2006

Senior Lecturer

School of Chemistry,

University of Nottingham,


August 1999 – July 2003

Lecturer in Physical Chemistry

School of Chemistry,

University of Nottingham,


September 1994 – July 1999

Lecturer in Physical Chemistry

School of Chemical Science,

University of East Anglia,

NORWICH, Norfolk,NR4 7TJ.

April 1988 – August 1994

Postdoctoral Research Assistant Grade 1A

Department of Chemistry,

Heriot-Watt University,


October 1986 – March 1988



Fingerprint Dive into the research topics where Martin R. S. McCoustra is active. These topic labels come from the works of this person. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

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Research Output 1985 2019

Correction: Surface heterogeneity and inhomogeneous broadening of vibrational line profiles

Taj, S., Baird, D., Rosu-Finsen, A. & McCoustra, M. R. S., 14 Oct 2019, In : Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics. 21, 38, p. 21663-21664 2 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access

Plasma modification of textiles: understanding the mechanisms involved

McCoustra, M. R. S. & Mather, R. R., 21 Aug 2019, In : Textile Progress. 50, 4, p. 185-229 45 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature review

Design of experiments
Artificial intelligence
Surface properties

Surface Science Investigations of Icy Mantle Growth on Interstellar Dust Grains in Cooling Environments

Marchione, D., Rosu-Finsen, A., Taj, S., Lasne, J., Abdulgalil, A. G. M., Thrower, J., Frankland, V., Collings, M. P. & McCoustra, M. R. S., 19 Sep 2019, In : ACS Earth and Space Chemistry. 3, 9, p. 1915-1931 17 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Earth mantle

Three things you probably didn't know about amorphous solid water

McCoustra, M. R. S., 18 Aug 2019.

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

Open Access

A Fibre-Coupled UHV-Compatible Variable Angle Reflection-Absorption UV/Visible Spectrometer

Stubbing, J. W., Salter, T. L., Brown, W. A., Taj, S. & McCoustra, M. R. S., May 2018, In : Review of Scientific Instruments. 89, 5, 054102.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
Myelinated Nerve Fibers
Stainless Steel


secondary school

Activities 2004 2019

European Conference on Surface Science (Event)

Martin R. S. McCoustra (Member)
1 Apr 201931 Mar 2022

Activity: MembershipMembership of board

Meeting the Scientist

Martin R. S. McCoustra (Speaker)
16 Apr 2019

Activity: Talk or presentationSchool Outreach

IceAge - Astrochemistry at High Resolution with JWST

Martin R. S. McCoustra (Keynote speaker)
20 Jun 2019

Activity: Talk or presentationSchool Outreach

Press / Media

Chasing Stardust

Martin R. S. McCoustra


1 item of Media coverage

Press/Media: Research

Warm reception to Moray hoped for leading Academics

Martin R. S. McCoustra


1 item of Media coverage

Press/Media: Other

What’s the Matter… with Spontelectrics?

Martin R. S. McCoustra


1 item of Media coverage

Press/Media: Research

Spontelectric Materials on BBC Scotland

Martin R. S. McCoustra


1 item of Media coverage

Press/Media: Research