CENTC receives NSF reauthorization for $20 million

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $20 million grant over five years in reauthorizing the Center for Enabling New Technologies Through Catalysis based at the University of Washington, Department of Chemistry. The center, led by Karen Goldberg, Nicole A. Boand Endowed Professor of Chemistry, brings together 18 investigators and their research groups in chemistry and chemical engineering at 14 different institutions across North America. Their focus is to develop fundamental science needed to sustainably produce chemicals and fuels. Two other UW chemistry professors, James Mayer and Michael Heinekey, are also involved.

The center was established with a three-year NSF grant in 2004 with the aim of finding easier, more powerful and more environmentally friendly ways of manipulating the strong chemical bonds found in most materials. In 2007 the center received a $15 million, five-year award from NSF. Under the latest grant renewal, scientists will create and investigate new reactions and catalyst systems transforming various chemical bonds involving carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. The data will help devise new methods for the chemical industry that could provide consumers with a variety of less-expensive products created in ways that use less energy and produce fewer undesirable byproducts. The research focuses on basic science that can provide the technological basis for sustainable production of chemicals, pharmaceuticals and fuels. The work has significant potential to increase U.S. competitiveness and bring increased energy independence, Goldberg said.

The center offers collaborative training for students as well as postdoctoral researchers. It has a number of industrial affiliates that provide guidance and facilitate commercial development of the center’s research. The Center for Enabling New Technologies Through Catalysis is led by the UW and is funded as part of the NSF Centers for Chemical Innovation program.

Article by of Vince Stricherz, UW News and Information

Science paper explores proton-coupled electron transfer in metal oxide nanoparticles

A recent publication in Science by Professor James Mayer and coworkers explores the transfer of electrons and protons in titanium and zinc oxide nanoparticles. The chemical reactions that occur on the surfaces of these metal oxides are important for applications such as solar cells. This new research indicates that the usual description of these reactions as electron transfers is incomplete – that the reactions can be more accurately described as proton-coupled electron transfers.

“As we think about building a better energy future, we have to develop more efficient ways to convert chemical energy into electrical energy and vice versa,” said Prof. Mayer, the Alvin L. and Verla R. Kwiram Endowed Professor of Chemistry.

Chemical reactions that change the oxidation state of molecules on the surface of metal oxides historically have been seen as a transfer solely of electrons. The new research shows that, at least in some reactions, the transfer process includes coupled electrons and protons.

“Research and manufacturing have grown up around models in which electrons moved but not atoms,” Mayer said. The new paper proposes a different model for certain kinds of processes, a perspective that could lead to new avenues of investigation, he said. “In principle this is a path toward more efficient energy utilization.” Coupling the transfer of electrons with the transfer of protons could help reduce the energy barriers to chemical reactions important in many technologies. For example, using solar energy to make fuels such as hydrogen requires that electrons and protons be coupled.

Co-authors of the Science paper are Joel Schrauben, a UW postdoctoral researcher; Rebecca Hayoun, who since has received a doctorate from the UW and is working in the private sector; UW graduate students Carolyn Valdez and Miles Braten; and Lila Fridley, an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who participated as a summer researcher at UW.

The work was funded by the UW, the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund, the National Science Foundation through the UW-based Center for Enabling New Technologies through Catalysis, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

To learn more about this research, read the UW News press release, the Science article (subscription required), or visit Prof. Mayer’s website and research page.

UW documentary features four Chemistry faculty

Professors Michael Gelb, David Ginger, Alvin Kwiram, and Pradip Rathod of the Department of Chemistry are among the notable University of Washington scientists highlighted in a new documentary released this month. “Timeless Discoveries,” a documentary made possible by the generosity of the Leonard P. & Helen M. Kammeyer Endowed Fund, highlights major breakthroughs, groundbreaking research, and practical applications revealed by the scientific community at the College of Arts & Sciences. The film, which will air on UWTV, follows professors and students as they discuss their challenges and discoveries ranging from the Hepatitis B vaccine to advances in solar energy.  The film was also featured in the Local News section of the Seattle Times.

To learn more about Professor Gelb and his research, please visit his faculty page and research group website.

To learn more about Professor Ginger and his research, please visit his faculty web page and his research group site.

To learn more about Emeritus Professor Kwiram and his research, please visit his faculty page.

To learn more about Professor Rathod and his research, visit his faculty web page.

Wow! That’s a Big Magnet

It’s finally here. At long last, the 800 MHz NMR magnet rolled up behind Bagley Hall last week on a very big truck in a very big box (see pictures below). The move of a 3-ton object from Europe to the basement of Bagley was only achieved after considerable planning and with the help of many experts. Among other things, the planning included assuring ourselves that the magnet in transit from the loading dock to its new home would not choose to travel suddenly from the ground floor to the sub-basement (meaning, cause the collapse of the suspended concrete slab that serves as the floor). Disaster did not ensue: the magnet is now in its new home, resting on a concrete slab directly in contact with mother Earth. Stay tuned as the super-conducting coils are cooled within a few degrees of absolute zero and are brought to the electrical current needed to achieve an 18.8 Tesla magnetic field. Congratulations and thanks to Professors Drobny, Klevit, and Varani for winning the grant that purchased this new instrument that will benefit so many research projects. And mega-kudos to Chemistry’s Director of Technical Services, James Gladden, who has so capably led the Department’s planning efforts for this installation.

UW Chemistry Faculty Lead UW to Top Citation Impact in Materials Science

According to a recent report, the University of Washington led the world in impact of publications in materials science research during the period 2001-2011. This analysis, by Thomson-Reuters, focused on 800 papers published at the UW in the field of materials science, which were collectively cited about 24,000 times, achieving a remarkable 30.41 citations per publication. The UW’s performance was closely followed by a number of outstanding private and public institutions. Chemistry Chair Paul Hopkins points out that even in a large university such as the UW, the work of a small number of faculty members can strongly influence the outcome of such analyses. He points out that UW Chemistry Professor Daniel Gamelin, UW Chemistry and Materials Science Professor Alex Jen, UW Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Professor Samson Jenekhe, and former UW Chemistry Professor Younan Xia together published a total of nearly 750 papers  in that time period that were cited over 43,000 times, or 58 citations per paper. Though all of these papers were clearly not included in the Thomson-Reuters analysis, Hopkins believes that that the work of chemists Gamelin, Jen, Jenekhe, and Xia was critical to lifting the UW to the number one spot. Hopkins hopes that prospective graduate students and postdoctoral associates in this field will take notice of the UW’s outstanding performance and strongly consider joining this exciting program at the UW.

Jen et al. describe nanoscale molecular control in Science

Professor Alex Jen, Boeing-Johnson Chair professor of materials science and engineering and professor of chemistry, and his co-workers have demonstrated the ability to foster an extremely unlikely chemical reaction between two molecules by tethering them into the correct orientation on a gold surface. The study is reported in the March 11, 2011 issue of Science. The research was also highlighted in the March 14, 2011 issue of Chemical & Engineering News:

“In the work, chemists led by Paul S. Weiss and Kendall N. Houk of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Alex K-Y. Jen of the University of Washington, Seattle, tied two anthracene analogs next to each other on a gold surface. This forced the molecules to react in a manner that, although theoretically possible in solution, rarely occurs there because of unfavorable geometry.

“In principle, the mallet-shaped molecule 9-phenylethynylanthracene (PEA) should undergo a 4 + 4 photocycloaddition with another molecule of PEA. But because of geometric constraints, that reaction rarely happens. Instead, one PEA’s anthracene moiety tends to do Diels-Alder chemistry with the ethynyl unit on another PEA’s phenylethynyl handle.

“To force the disfavored reaction, the researchers attach a thiol group to the end of PEA’s handle and tether two such molecules next to one another on a gold surface within the defect sites of a self-assembled alkanethiolate monolayer. The anthracene moieties are then poised in the correct orientation to do the photocycloaddition when photoexcited.”

To learn more about Prof. Jen’s research, visit his group research page.

For more information about the Science article, read the UW press release.

Spinning Quantum Dots reported in Nature Nanotechnology

Dr. Stefan Ochsenbein, a postdoc working with Prof. Daniel Gamelin, Harry and Catherine Jaynne Boand Endowed Professor of Chemistry, is lead author on a new paper published in Nature Nanotechnology reporting the first successful coherent impurity spin manipulation within colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals (also known as quantum dots). Spin effects in semiconductor nanostructures have attracted broad interest for potential spin-based information processing technologies, whether in spin-electronics (“spintronics”) or spin-photonics. Colloidal doped semiconductor nanocrystals present interesting possibilities for constructing devices by solution processing or that involve integration with soft materials (e.g., organics), but their spin properties remain relatively untested. For example, the possibility to manipulate spins within colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals coherently, as would be necessary for many proposed applications, had not been demonstrated until these latest experiments.

In this paper, Ochsenbein and Gamelin describe the first observation of coherent spin manipulation in colloidal doped quantum dots. The observation was made by demonstrating microwave-driven Rabi oscillations within the high-spin ground states of Mn2+ impurity ions doped into colloidal ZnO semiconductor nanocrystals. Their electron spin-echo measurements revealed long spin coherence times approaching 1 µs, sufficient for potential qubit applications with optical excitation. The authors also identified previously unobserved hyperfine interactions between Mn2+ electron spins within the quantum dots and proton nuclear spins outside the quantum dots, revealing an important but previously unrecognized contribution to spin decoherence in such quantum dots.

Read the article: “Quantum oscillations in magnetically doped colloidal nanocrystals.” Ochsenbein, S. T.; Gamelin, D. R., Nature Nanotechnology, 2011, 6, 112–115.

To learn more about Prof. Gamelin’s research, visit his faculty webpage and research group website.

Dalton research featured in C&E News coverstory

The research of Prof. Larry Dalton, B. Seymour Rabinovitch Endowed Chair in Chemistry, was recently featured as part of C&E News’ cover story highlighting the key research advances in chemistry over the last decade.  The article describes the advances the Dalton research group has made in designing devices that convert electrical data into optical information at high rates of speed (more than 110 gigahertz) under low drive voltages (less than 1 V). These types of devices have a wide variety of uses in fiber-optic and satellite communication systems and for optical-switching technology.

Read the C&E News article.

Visit Prof. Dalton’s department website and group research page.

Pradipsinh Rathod awarded Gates Foundation grant

Pradipsinh K. Rathod, Professor of Chemistry, was awarded a $ 1,000,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of the next phase of Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative to encourage bold and unconventional ideas for global health. The grant will provide continued support for Prof. Rathod’s  global health research project “Strategies to Disable Hypermutagenesis in Malaria Parasites.”

Prof. Rathod proposed that drug resistance in malaria parasite populations is driven by cellular components, a “mutasome”, that promotes acquisition of multiple mutations at target loci in the genome.  All malaria parasites may have had an ancestral, pre-existing mechanism to mutate surface proteins at extraordinary rates to avoid host immunity. However, parasite populations displaying the Accelerated Resistance to Multiple Drugs (ARMD) phenotype may have hijacked such a machinery to now make changes anywhere in the genome. Genomic studies are geared to identify genome components which help drive hypermutagenesis, and high throughput screens are being developed to directly block the process with small organic molecules. An ability to chemically disable such a mutasome during malaria therapy would improve success rates and staying power of new antimalarial drugs.   Laboratory Post-Doctoral colleagues John White and Jenny Guler, and graduate student Joseph Fowble conduct  experimental design and implementation on the GCE project in the Rathod laboratory.

Grand Challenges Explorations is a five-year, $100 million initiative of the Gates Foundation to promote innovation in global health. For more information, visit  http://www.grandchallenges.org/explorations.

To learn more about Prof. Rathod’s research, visit his faculty page.

Pictured: Prof. Rathod and Dr. Jennifer Guler in the lab (photo by Mary Levin).

Electro-Optic Research featured on cover of Journal of Physical Chemistry B

Stephanie Benight, a 5th year graduate student working with Larry Dalton and Bruce Robinson, is lead author on a paper recently featured as the cover story in the Journal of Physical Chemistry B  (Sept. 23rd issue). Benight’s graduate research has been focused on investigating intermolecular interactions in electro-optic chromophore systems using experimental and theoretical methods. Organic electro-optic (EO) materials have the potential to minimize the size, weight, and power requirements of next generation computing, telecommunications, and sensing applications.

In this article, Benight and coworkers demonstrate both experimentally and theoretically that lattice dimensionality can be defined using the relationship between centrosymmetric order and acentric order. Experimentally: Acentric order of a chromophore system is determined by attenuated total reflection measurement of electro-optic activity coupled with hyper-Rayleigh scattering measurement of molecular first hyperpolarizability, and centrosymmetric order is determined by the variable angle polarization referenced absorption spectroscopy method. Theoretically: Order is determined from statistical mechanical models that predict the properties of soft condensed matter.

Full citation: [Stephanie J. Benight, Lewis E. Johnson, Robin Barnes, Benjamin C. Olbricht, Denise H. Bale, Philip J. Reid, Bruce E. Eichinger, Larry R. Dalton, Philip A. Sullivan, and Bruce H. Robinson, J. Phys. Chem. B, 2010114 (37), pp 11949–11956.]

Pictured: Stephanie Benight and a few of the co-authors of the paper. (Left to right) Lewis Johnson, Prof. Bruce Robinson, and Stephanie Benight.