Research Program Overview: Chemical Reactivity at Precision Nanoscale Surfaces

Innovation in the use of energy resources is a key contemporary challenge because of the significant projected increase in global energy consumption and the pressing demand for disruptive changes in energy utilization to offset the driving forces of climate change. Addressing these needs requires the more efficient use of current petroleum-based energy resources as precursors and fuels, along with increased utilization of alternative energy resources, including biomass and natural gas, and the valorization of readily available but chemically stable potential feedstocks, such as carbon dioxide. Enhancing the viability of alternative energy generation technologies, such as fuel cells, is also required to transform the overall energy landscape. A major prerequisite in meeting each of these scientific challenges is a critical need for the design and synthesis of new highly active and selective catalytic materials.

The study of well-defined catalyst materials under complex working conditions and the study of complex materials under well-defined, idealized conditions—such as ultrahigh vacuum (UHV) or computational approaches—both present significant challenges. Enabling the systematic study of catalytic structure-function relationships in these two experimental regimes will drive the development of predictive mechanistic principles that can be applied to the discovery of catalysts for the above transformations. The field of colloidal metal nanoparticle synthesis is just now reaching the point where it is possible to make atomically precise materials with tailored and uniform surface architectures and compositions, though some important challenges remain. Our research group has the combination of expertise required to leverage these advances in materials synthesis capabilities to meet this fundamental need in catalyst development.

The Personick Research Group is advancing the state of the art in the synthesis of precise nanomaterials and is utilizing these precision materials to define catalytic structure-function relationships at an elevated level of mechanistic detail.

Area of Impact #1:
Synthesis of Precise Nanomaterials

We are developing materials-generalizable chemical tools for controlling the facet structure, composition, and surface ligand environment of metal nanoparticles at the atomic scale.


Area of Impact #2: Catalytic Studies on Nanoscale Model Surfaces

These materials provide a platform for structure-activity studies of catalytic transformations at the intersection of macroscopic single crystal model surfaces and working catalysts, thereby facilitating catalyst design from fundamental principles.


Area of Impact #3: Plasmon-Mediated Nanoparticle Synthesis and Catalysis

We are using visible light illumination to excite non-thermal electron distributions in noble metal nanoparticles to achieve reaction selectivity that is not possible using purely thermal reaction chemistry in both materials synthesis and catalytic transformations.


[Click on images for more details about each research area.]