Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Cambridge
Developing the technologies for a cleaner tomorrow
My overarching motivation is to discover and implement the chemistry necessary to transition to a sustainable energy-based society. Specifically, I am developing materials to convert solar energy to chemical fuels as an energy storage media. Transforming solar energy into chemical bonds requires efficient, synchronous function of multiple processes as well as a fundamental understanding of the underlying chemistry at work. Currently, catalysts that utilize solar-derived electricity to generate chemical fuels lack the performance necessary to render this technology practical. Within this framework, my research entails both the design of novel electrocatalytic materials and in situ spectroscopic investigations. The aim here is to establish an iterative cycle where novel materials are first synthesized and systematically tested then subsequently probed through spectroscopic methods to develop a comprehensive understanding of the materials' structure/function relationships. The lessons generated can then be feed into the next cycle of design, synthesis, and understanding to accelerate the rate at which the pressing challenges in energy and materials can be met.
My present research entails the applications of electroanalytical methodology combined with in situ spectroscopic approaches towards developing a comprehensive understanding of enzymatic catalysts. Specifically, I am probing the structure-function relationships of Photosystem II, the component responsible for absorbing light and oxidizing water in photosynthesis. The primary motivation for this line of research is do understand how Photosystem II, as a model system, performs solar-driven water oxidation with such high efficiency, and utilize these findings to improve man-made water oxidizing systems.
Abstract: The rise of inorganic-biological hybrid organisms for solar-to-chemical production has spurred mechanistic investigations into the dynamics of the biotic-abiotic interface to drive the development of next-generation systems. The model system, Moorella thermoacetica-cadmium sulfide (CdS), combines an inorganic semiconductor nanoparticle light harvester with an acetogenic bacterium to drive the photosynthetic reduction of CO2 to acetic acid with high efficiency. In this work, we report insights into this unique electrotrophic behavior and propose a charge-transfer mechanism from CdS to M. thermoacetica Transient absorption (TA) spectroscopy revealed that photoexcited electron transfer rates increase with increasing hydrogenase (H2ase) enzyme activity. On the same time scale as the TA spectroscopy, time-resolved infrared (TRIR) spectroscopy showed spectral changes in the 1,700-1,900-cm(-1) spectral region. The quantum efficiency of this system for photosynthetic acetic acid generation also increased with increasing H2ase activity and shorter carrier lifetimes when averaged over the first 24 h of photosynthesis. However, within the initial 3 h of photosynthesis, the rate followed an opposite trend: The bacteria with the lowest H2ase activity photosynthesized acetic acid the fastest. These results suggest a two-pathway mechanism: a high quantum efficiency charge-transfer pathway to H2ase generating H2 as a molecular intermediate that dominates at long time scales (24 h), and a direct energy-transducing enzymatic pathway responsible for acetic acid production at short time scales (3 h). This work represents a promising platform to utilize conventional spectroscopic methodology to extract insights from more complex biotic-abiotic hybrid systems.
Pub.: 05 Oct '16, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: Here, we demonstrate the successful synthesis of brightly emitting colloidal cesium lead halide (CsPbX3, X = Cl, Br, I) nanowires (NWs) with uniform diameters and tunable compositions. By using highly monodisperse CsPbBr3 nanowires as templates, the NW composition can be independently controlled through anion-exchange reactions. CsPbX3 alloy NWs with a wide range of alloy compositions can be achieved with well-preserved morphology and crystal structure. The NWs are highly luminescent with photoluminescent quantum yields (PLQY) ranging from 20% to 80%. The bright photoluminescence can be tuned over nearly the entire visible spectrum. The high PLQYs together with charge transport measurements exemplify the efficient alloying of the anionic sublattice in a one-dimensional CsPbX3 system. The wires increased functionality in the form of fast photoresponse rates and the low defect density suggest CsPbX3 NWs as prospective materials for optoelectronic applications.
Pub.: 24 May '16, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: Photoelectrochemical (PEC) water splitting into hydrogen and oxygen is a promising strategy to absorb solar energy and directly convert it into a dense storage media in the form of chemical bonds. The continual development and improvement of individual components of PEC systems is critical towards increasing the solar to fuel efficiency of prototype devices. Within this context, we describe a study on the growth of wurtzite indium phosphide (InP) nanowire (NW) arrays on silicon substrates and their subsequent implementation as light absorbing photocathodes in PEC cells. The high onset potential (0.6 V vs. the reversible hydrogen electrode) and photocurrent (18 mA/cm2) of the InP photocathodes renders them as promising building blocks for high performance PEC cells. As a proof of concept for overall system integration, InP photocathodes were combined with a nanoporous bismuth vanadate (BiVO4) photoanode to generate an unassisted solar water splitting efficiency of 0.5%.
Pub.: 29 Apr '16, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: Conversion of carbon dioxide (CO2) to carbon monoxide (CO) and other value-added carbon products is an important challenge for clean energy research. Here we report modular optimization of covalent organic frameworks (COFs), in which the building units are cobalt porphyrin catalysts linked by organic struts through imine bonds, to prepare a catalytic material for aqueous electrochemical reduction of CO2 to CO. The catalysts exhibit high Faradaic efficiency (90%) and turnover numbers (up to 290,000, with initial turnover frequency of 9400 hour(-1)) at pH 7 with an overpotential of -0.55 volts, equivalent to a 26-fold improvement in activity compared with the molecular cobalt complex, with no degradation over 24 hours. X-ray absorption data reveal the influence of the COF environment on the electronic structure of the catalytic cobalt centers.
Pub.: 22 Aug '15, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: The tunable physical and electronic structure of III-V semiconductor alloys renders them uniquely useful for a variety of applications, including biological imaging, transistors, and solar energy conversion. However, their fabrication typically requires complex gas phase instrumentation or growth from high-temperature melts, which consequently limits their prospects for widespread implementation. Furthermore, the need for lattice matched growth substrates in many cases confines the composition of the materials to a narrow range that can be epitaxially grown. In this work, we present a solution phase synthesis for indium gallium phosphide (In(x)Ga(1-x)P) alloy nanowires, whose indium/gallium ratio, and consequently, physical and electronic structure, can be tuned across the entire x = 0 to x = 1 composition range. We demonstrate the evolution of structural and optical properties of the nanowires, notably the direct to indirect band gap transition, as the composition is varied from InP to GaP. Our scalable, low-temperature synthesis affords compositional, structural, and electronic tunability and can provide a route for realization of broader In(x)Ga(1-x)P applications.
Pub.: 04 Apr '15, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: Low-temperature synthesis of crystalline silicon and silicon-containing nanowires remains a challenge in synthetic chemistry due to the lack of sufficiently reactive Si precursors. We report that colloidal Si nanowires can be grown using tris(trimethylsilyl)silane or trisilane as the Si precursor by a Ga-mediated solution–liquid–solid (SLS) approach at temperatures of about 200 °C, which is more than 200 °C lower than that reported in the previous literature. We further demonstrate that the new Si chemistry can be adopted to incorporate Si atoms into III–V semiconductor lattices, which holds promise to produce a new Si-containing alloy semiconductor nanowire. This development represents an important step toward low-temperature fabrication of Si nanowire-based devices for broad applications.
Pub.: 30 Nov '15, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: We have developed the first high-diffraction-efficiency two-dimensional (2-D) photonic crystals for molecular recognition and chemical sensing applications. We prepared close-packed 2-D polystyrene particle arrays by self-assembly of spreading particle monolayers on mercury surfaces. The 2-D particle arrays amazingly diffract 80% of the incident light. When a 2-D array was transferred onto a hydrogel thin film showing a hydrogel volume change in response to a specific analyte, the array spacing was altered, shifting the 2-D array diffraction wavelength. These 2-D array photonic crystals exhibit ultrahigh diffraction efficiencies that enable them to be used for visual determination of analyte concentrations.
Pub.: 25 May '11, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: The solar-driven reduction of carbon dioxide to value-added chemical fuels is a longstanding challenge in the fields of catalysis, energy science, and green chemistry. In order to develop effective CO2 fixation, several key considerations must be balanced, including (1) catalyst selectivity for promoting CO2 reduction over competing hydrogen generation from proton reduction, (2) visible-light harvesting that matches the solar spectrum, and (3) the use of cheap and earth-abundant catalytic components. In this report, we present the synthesis and characterization of a new family of earth-abundant nickel complexes supported by N-heterocyclic carbene-amine ligands that exhibit high selectivity and activity for the electrocatalytic and photocatalytic conversion of CO2 to CO. Systematic changes in the carbene and amine donors of the ligand have been surveyed, and [Ni((Pr)bimiq1)](2+) (1c, where (Pr)bimiq1 = bis(3-(imidazolyl)isoquinolinyl)propane) emerges as a catalyst for electrochemical reduction of CO2 with the lowest cathodic onset potential (E(cat) = -1.2 V vs SCE). Using this earth-abundant catalyst with Ir(ppy)3 (where ppy = 2-phenylpyridine) and an electron donor, we have developed a visible-light photoredox system for the catalytic conversion of CO2 to CO that proceeds with high selectivity and activity and achieves turnover numbers and turnover frequencies reaching 98,000 and 3.9 s(-1), respectively. Further studies reveal that the overall efficiency of this solar-to-fuel cycle may be limited by the formation of the active Ni catalyst and/or the chemical reduction of CO2 to CO at the reduced nickel center and provide a starting point for improved photoredox systems for sustainable carbon-neutral energy conversion.
Pub.: 17 Sep '13, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: We enclose octahedral silver nanocrystals (Ag NCs) in metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) to make mesoscopic constructs O(h)-nano-Ag⊂MOF in which the interface between the Ag and the MOF is pristine and the MOF is ordered (crystalline) and oriented on the Ag NCs. This is achieved by atomic layer deposition of aluminum oxide on Ag NCs and addition of a tetra-topic porphyrin-based linker, 4,4',4″,4‴-(porphyrin-5,10,15,20-tetrayl)tetrabenzoic acid (H4TCPP), to react with alumina and make MOF [Al2(OH)2TCPP] enclosures around Ag NCs. Alumina thickness is precisely controlled from 0.1 to 3 nm, thus allowing control of the MOF thickness from 10 to 50 nm. Electron microscopy and grazing angle X-ray diffraction confirm the order and orientation of the MOF by virtue of the porphyrin units being perpendicular to the planes of the Ag. We use surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy to directly track the metalation process on the porphyrin and map the distribution of the metalated and unmetalated linkers on a single-nanoparticle level.
Pub.: 27 Jan '15, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: The generation of chemical fuel in the form of molecular H2 via the electrolysis of water is regarded to be a promising approach to convert incident solar power into an energy storage medium. Highly efficient and cost-effective catalysts are required to make such an approach practical on a large scale. Recently, a number of amorphous hydrogen evolution reaction (HER) catalysts have emerged that show promise in terms of scalability and reactivity, yet remain poorly understood. In this work, we utilize Raman spectroscopy and X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) as a tool to elucidate the structure and function of an amorphous cobalt sulfide (CoSx) catalyst. Ex situ measurements reveal that the as-deposited CoSx catalyst is composed of small clusters in which the cobalt is surrounded by both sulfur and oxygen. Operando experiments, performed while the CoSx is catalyzing the HER, yield a molecular model in which cobalt is in an octahedral CoS2-like state where the cobalt center is predominantly surrounded by a first shell of sulfur atoms, which, in turn, are preferentially exposed to electrolyte relative to bulk CoS2. We surmise that these CoS2-like clusters form under cathodic polarization and expose a high density of catalytically active sulfur sites for the HER.
Pub.: 09 Jun '15, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: Organic-inorganic hybrid perovskites, which have proved to be promising semiconductor materials for photovoltaic applications, have been made into atomically thin two-dimensional (2D) sheets. We report the solution-phase growth of single- and few-unit-cell-thick single-crystalline 2D hybrid perovskites of (C4H9NH3)2PbBr4 with well-defined square shape and large size. In contrast to other 2D materials, the hybrid perovskite sheets exhibit an unusual structural relaxation, and this structural change leads to a band gap shift as compared to the bulk crystal. The high-quality 2D crystals exhibit efficient photoluminescence, and color tuning could be achieved by changing sheet thickness as well as composition via the synthesis of related materials.
Pub.: 26 Sep '15, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: A key challenge in the field of electrochemical carbon dioxide reduction is the design of catalytic materials featuring high product selectivity, stability, and a composition of earth-abundant elements. In this work, we introduce thin films of nanosized metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) as atomically defined and nanoscopic materials that function as catalysts for the efficient and selective reduction of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide in aqueous electrolytes. Detailed examination of a cobalt-porphyrin MOF, Al2(OH)2TCPP-Co (TCPP-H2 = 4,4',4″,4‴-(porphyrin-5,10,15,20-tetrayl)tetrabenzoate) revealed a selectivity for CO production in excess of 76% and stability over 7 h with a per-site turnover number (TON) of 1400. In situ spectroelectrochemical measurements provided insights into the cobalt oxidation state during the course of reaction and showed that the majority of catalytic centers in this MOF are redox-accessible where Co(II) is reduced to Co(I) during catalysis.
Pub.: 29 Oct '15, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: Understanding the atomic structure of a catalyst is crucial to exposing the source of its performance characteristics. It is highly unlikely that a catalyst remains the same under reaction conditions when compared to as-synthesized. Hence, the ideal experiment to study the catalyst structure should be performed in situ. Here, we use X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) as an in situ technique to study Pt3Ni nanoframe particles which have been proven to be an excellent electrocatalyst for the oxygen reduction reaction (ORR). The surface characteristics of the nanoframes were probed through electrochemical hydrogen underpotential deposition and carbon monoxide electrooxidation, which showed that nanoframe surfaces with different structure exhibit varying levels of binding strength to adsorbate molecules. It is well-known that Pt-skin formation on Pt–Ni catalysts will enhance ORR activity by weakening the binding energy between the surface and adsorbates. Ex situ and in situ XAS results reveal that nanoframes which bind adsorbates more strongly have a rougher Pt surface caused by insufficient segregation of Pt to the surface and consequent Ni dissolution. In contrast, nanoframes which exhibit extremely high ORR activity simultaneously demonstrate more significant segregation of Pt over Ni-rich subsurface layers, allowing better formation of the critical Pt-skin. This work demonstrates that the high ORR activity of the Pt3Ni hollow nanoframes depends on successful formation of the Pt-skin surface structure.
Pub.: 10 Dec '15, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: Photoelectrochemistry1, 2, 3 is one of several promising approaches4, 5 for the realization of efficient solar-to-fuel conversion. Recent work has shown that photoelectrodes made of semiconductor nano-/microwire arrays can have better photoelectrochemical performance6, 7, 8 than their planar counterparts because of their unique properties, such as high surface area9, 10, 11. Although considerable research effort has focused on studying wire arrays, the inhomogeneity in the geometry, doping, defects and catalyst loading present in such arrays can obscure the link between these properties and the photoelectrochemical performance of the wires, and correlating performance with the specific properties of individual wires is difficult because of ensemble averaging. Here, we show that a single-nanowire-based photoelectrode platform can be used to reliably probe the current–voltage (I–V) characteristics of individual nanowires. We find that the photovoltage output of ensemble array samples can be limited by poorly performing individual wires, which highlights the importance of improving nanowire homogeneity within an array. Furthermore, the platform allows the flux of photogenerated electrons to be quantified as a function of the lengths and diameters of individual nanowires, and we find that the flux over the entire nanowire surface (7–30 electrons nm–2 s–1) is significantly reduced as compared with that of a planar analogue (∼1,200 electrons nm–2 s–1). Such characterization of the photogenerated carrier flux at the semiconductor/electrolyte interface is essential for designing nanowire photoelectrodes that match the activity of their loaded electrocatalysts.
Pub.: 28 Mar '16, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: Metal oxides that absorb visible light are attractive for use as photoanodes in photoelectrosynthetic cells. However, their performance is often limited by poor charge carrier transport. We show that this problem can be addressed by using separate materials for light absorption and carrier transport. Here, we report a Ta:TiO2|BiVO4 nanowire photoanode, in which BiVO4 acts as a visible light-absorber and Ta:TiO2 acts as a high surface area electron conductor. Electrochemical and spectroscopic measurements provide experimental evidence for the type II band alignment necessary for favorable electron transfer from BiVO4 to TiO2. The host-guest nanowire architecture presented here allows for simultaneously high light absorption and carrier collection efficiency, with an onset of anodic photocurrent near 0.2 V vs RHE, and a photocurrent density of 2.1 mA/cm(2) at 1.23 V vs RHE.
Pub.: 11 May '16, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: Compositional heterogeneity in shaped, bimetallic nanocrystals offers additional variables to manoeuvre the functionality of the nanocrystal. However, understanding how to manipulate anisotropic elemental distributions in a nanocrystal is a great challenge in reaching higher tiers of nanocatalyst design. Here, we present the evolutionary trajectory of phase segregation in Pt–Ni rhombic dodecahedra. The anisotropic growth of a Pt-rich phase along the 111 and 200 directions at the initial growth stage results in Pt segregation to the 14 axes of a rhombic dodecahedron, forming a highly branched, Pt-rich tetradecapod structure embedded in a Ni-rich shell. With longer growth time, the Pt-rich phase selectively migrates outwards through the 14 axes to the 24 edges such that the rhombic dodecahedron becomes a Pt-rich frame enclosing a Ni-rich interior phase. The revealed anisotropic phase segregation and migration mechanism offers a radically different approach to fabrication of nanocatalysts with desired compositional distributions and performance.
Pub.: 15 Aug '16, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: The radiation-sensitive nature of halide perovskites has hindered structural studies at the atomic scale. We overcome this obstacle by applying low dose-rate in-line holography, which combines aberration-corrected high-resolution transmission electron microscopy with exit-wave reconstruction. This technique successfully yields the genuine atomic structure of ultrathin two-dimensional CsPbBr3 halide perovskites, and a quantitative structure determination was achieved atom column by atom column using the phase information of the reconstructed exit-wave function without causing electron beam-induced sample alterations. An extraordinarily high image quality enables an unambiguous structural analysis of coexisting high-temperature and low-temperature phases of CsPbBr3 in single particles. On a broader level, our approach offers unprecedented opportunities to better understand halide perovskites at the atomic level as well as other radiation-sensitive materials.
Pub.: 07 Nov '16, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
Abstract: Raman and photoluminescence (PL) spectroscopy are used to investigate dynamic structure-function relationships in methylammonium lead iodide (MAPbI3) perovskite. The intensity of the 150 cm(-1) methylammonium (MA) librational Raman mode is found to be correlated with PL intensities in microstructures of MAPbI3. Because of the strong hydrogen-bond between hydrogens in MA and iodine in the PbI6 perovskite octahedra, the Raman activity of MA is very sensitive to structural distortions of the inorganic framework. The structural distortions directly influence PL intensities, which in turn, have been correlated with microstructure quality. Our measurements, supported with first principles calculations, indicate how excited-state MA librational displacements mechanistically control PL efficiency and lifetime in MAPbI3 - material parameters that are likely important for efficient PV devices.
Pub.: 01 Jun '17, Pinned: 22 Jun '17
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