Molecular beam, laser, surface science, and computational techniques are used to study the reactions of natural gas and carbon dioxide with catalytic metal surfaces. The outcome of gas-surface reactions is determined by the energy of the gas-surface collision complexes formed and the dynamical forces exerted upon them. Quantifying such reaction dynamics under the high pressure conditions of industrial catalysis would be exceedingly difficult because of prompt thermalization of both the reactants & products by intermolecular collisions. Instead, reactivity is studied under ultra-high vacuum conditions where reactants can be prepared in particular states prior to collision with the surface and product states can be examined afterwards to yield a diverse set of data that is informative about the reaction dynamics. The research aims to reveal how the structure and properties of the gas-surface collision complexes influence the reaction dynamics, and thereby the reactivity, such that dynamical control over reactivity can become an active consideration in the design of next generation catalysts and catalytic processes. In this way, the research may help advance catalytic technologies to more efficiently make products from natural gas, transformations that currently consume approximately 2% of global energy, and to use carbon dioxide as a chemical feedstock in ways that would reduce net greenhouse gas emissions.
A USOAR student would typically work in a team with other undergraduate or graduate students. Research could be doing surface chemistry experiments or modeling them theoretically.
The student should have completed introductory first year chemistry or physics.
1) To understand the tools & techniques required to study surface chemistry.
2) Gain some hands-on experience with modern surface science research
3) Appreciate the impact of surface chemistry on technological innovation (e.g., catalysis, semiconductor chip manufacturing, materials synthesis, etc.)