Research Check-In Part 2

The current goal for my project is to synthesize a functional catalyst for the hydrogen oxidation reaction (HOR) of significant yield. Several mechanistic reaction pathways have been proposed, including methods used by lab members in past years, as well as methods from published literature. For each attempt to correctly synthesize the ligand (where the “ligand’ is a compound that will later be attached to a metal to make up the catalyst), I must perform the reaction, and then test it to see whether or not the reaction worked and whether or not I have truly synthetized what I’m looking for. The difficulty stems not from the reaction itself, but from the post-reaction purification step, which involves lengthy separation of the compound from any impurities.  From the set-up of the initial reaction, to testing the purity of the molecule post-separation, the entire process of synthesizing a ligand can take from a few days to a week. With every attempt, there always variables that can be tweaked to improve the conditions of the procedure and thus increase yield of the product.

Measuring Single Molecule Lifetimes


During the first few weeks of summer research, I’ve been working toward my main goal of studying the behavior of an inexpensive organic dye at the molecular level by integrating two techniques: single molecule spectroscopy (SMS) and time-correlated single photon counting (TCSPC). SMS lets us look at the electron transfer processes happening in individual molecules, which is important because in dye-sensitized solar cells (the eventual application of this research) the environment is heterogeneous, meaning that each molecule undergoes different processes at very different speeds. TCSPC measures fluorescence lifetime decays of individual molecules, and can detect processes that happen in picoseconds, while SMS alone can detect electron transfer events down to only the millisecond timescale.

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Abstract — Oxygen Reduction by Iron Complexes for Solar Energy Conversion

There is evidence in nature that suggests that the energy supplies primarily in use, notably coal, contribute to pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. The abundance of these gases, which leads to climate change and global warming, continues to rise due to the consumption of fossil fuels. The McNamara Lab seeks to harness solar power, since the sun provides as much energy to the earth in one hour as is used in a year. Our lab focuses on the production and storage of clean and renewable energy using solar-powered fuel cells. Although there is already a market in solar energy, it is often criticized for its high price. My project focuses on whether or not certain earth abundant metal complexes are active for oxygen reduction, vital to green energy production within the fuel cell. The summer’s work should result in information designed for an academic paper on the subject, which would share our findings and progress on solar energy with the scientific community.

P-Chem Labs and Power Testing

When most people think of chemistry, the traditional image of the white lab  coat, gloves, and goggles hunched over an erlenmeyer flask, surrounded by a slew bottles marked “DANGER,” may come to mind. However, this visual is more fitting for a synthetic or organic chemist. The research I am doing is in the concentration of physical chemistry, and while I still work with chemicals and follow standard safety procedures, one aspect of the Wustholz lab differs from the stereotypical chemistry lab: we work with lasers.

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Have you ever watched colloids dry?

At the beginning of the summer I developed a series of steps that I need to complete in order to have a successful summer researching auto paints. The first step was stabilizing the colloidal silver nanoparticles that my lab uses; we call them colloids for simplicity. Colloids are a suspension of silver nanoparticles in a sodium citrate and water solution. Stable colloids can be applied to auto paint samples, amongst other substances, for surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy analysis. The trick is getting them to remain stabilized. Over the past semester, our colloids were only stable for a max of two days. The lifespan of colloids should be upwards of two weeks. After reviewing the procedure that we had been using all semester, we found some flaws. We discovered that our sodium citrate was expired by three years and that we were not boiling the silver nitrate enough before adding the sodium citrate. We corrected these two details and now we have colloids that last for three weeks! With stabilized colloids, I am able to move on to step two, reproducibility of auto paint standards.

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