The Resnick Young Investigators Symposium celebrates innovators in the science and technology of sustainability. The program highlights young researchers whose work shows great promise in tackling key science and engineering challenges in sustainability. The 2018 Resonate Award winner was announced during the program.
The 2018 Resnick Young Investigators Symposium was made possible by the generous support of Peter S. Cross (EE '68) and Melanie J. Cross.
2018 Speaker Lineup
Associate Professor of Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin
A Soft Material Approach towards Grand Energy Challenges—An Emerging Class of Functional Polymers
Nanostructured materials have become critically important in many areas of technology, ranging from renewable energy, electronics, photonics, to biology and medicine, because of their unusual physical/chemical properties due to confined dimensions of such materials.
This talk will present a new class of polymeric materials we developed recently: nanostructured functional polymer gels that are hierarchically porous, and structurally tunable in terms of size, shape, composition, hierarchical porosity, and chemical interfaces.
These organic gels as functional organic building blocks offer an array of advantageous features such as intrinsic 3D nanostructured conducting framework, exceptional electrical conductivity and electrochemical activity to store and transport ions, synthetically tunable structures and chemical interfaces, and they have been demonstrated powerful for a number of significant applications in energy and environmental technologies.
Several latest examples on functional organic gels-enabled advanced technological applications such as high-energy lithium batteries, thermoresponsive safe electrolytes, solar steam generation and water desalination, and atmospheric water harvesting, will be discussed to illustrate ‘structure-derived multifunctionality' of this special class of materials.
Guihua Yu is an Associate Professor of Materials Science and Mechanical Engineering at University of Texas at Austin. He received his BS degree with the highest honor in chemistry from University of Science and Technology of China, and earned his PhD from Harvard University, followed by postdoctoral research at Stanford University.
His research interests include rational synthesis and self-assembly of functional organic and hybrid organic-inorganic nanomaterials, and fundamental understanding of their chemical/physical properties for advanced energy and environmental technologies.
He has published over 100 scientific papers in prominent journals such as Science, Nature, Nature Nanotech., Nature Commun., PNAS, JACS, Adv. Mater., Angewandte Chemie, Energy Environ. Sci., Nano Lett., amongst others.
Yu has received a number of awards and honors for young investigators, including recently Nano Letters Young Investigator Lectureship Award, Fellow of Royal Society of Chemistry, Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, TMS Society Early Career Faculty Award, Sloan Research Fellowship, Chemical Society Reviews Emerging Investigator Lectureship, MIT Technology Review ‘35 Top Innovators Under 35'.
Senior Scientist in the Department of Materials and Interfaces at the Weizmann Institute of Science
Probing Bulk and Interfacial Properties of Energy Storage Materials by New Diagnostic Approaches
The development of high-energy, long-lifetime energy storage systems based on rechargeable batteries relies on our ability to control charge storage and degradation processes in the bulk of the electrode materials and at the electrode-electrolyte interface. NMR spectroscopy is exceptionally suited to follow the electrochemical and chemical processes in the bulk of the electrodes and electrolyte, providing atomic scale structural insight into the charge storage mechanisms and ion transport properties.
However, what happens at the interfaces, i.e. the crucial processes governing charge transport between the electrode and the electrolyte, is much harder to study. These processes involve the formation of thin, heterogeneous and disordered interphases. While NMR is in principal an excellent approach for probing disordered phases, its low sensitivity presents an enormous challenge in the detection of interfacial processes.
I will describe recent approaches to overcome this limitation by the use of Dynamic Nuclear Polarization (DNP). In DNP, the large electron spin polarization is used to boost the sensitivity of NMR spectroscopy by orders of magnitude. I will show how we can use this approach to detect the solid-electrolyte interphase (SEI), as well as the electrode's bulk, with unprecedented sensitivity. Furthermore, I will discuss the feasibility of using magnetic resonance methods to correlate the SEI composition with its ion transport properties – the least understood aspect of the SEI, which is essential for developing long-lasting energy storage systems.
Michal Leskes is a senior scientist (assistant professor) at the department of materials and interfaces at the Weizmann institute of Science. She completed a BSc in chemistry summa cum laude at Tel Aviv University (2004) followed by a PhD in chemical physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science (2010).
She was a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Cambridge, UK (2011-2015). Her research focus is on correlating the structure and properties of energy storage and conversion materials and the development of high sensitivity magnetic resonance approaches for probing the bulk and interface of functional materials.
She received the J. F. Kennedy Prize for her PhD (2010), the Award of Excellence by the National Postdoctoral Award Program for Advancing Women in Science (2011), a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship (2012-2013) and the Yigal Alon fellowship from the Israeli council of higher education (2015-2018).
Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT
Accelerating Sustainable Inorganic Design with Machine Learning
Chemical space is vast, with best estimates suggesting we have as yet characterized a tiny fraction of all possible compounds. The need for efficient discovery of new materials and catalysts to solve outstanding challenges in sustainable energy and resource utilization mandates that we identify smart ways to map out and explore chemical space.
Over the past twenty years, computational high-throughput screening, typically driven by density functional theory (DFT), has cemented itself as a powerful tool for the discovery of new materials. I will describe our recent efforts to develop new open-source software capable of both leveraging accelerated DFT on novel architectures (i.e., graphical processing units) and in moving beyond DFT to enable exploration of vast chemical space.
I will first describe our efforts to accelerate DFT-driven discovery and chemical space exploration with our divide-and-conquer approach to precise inorganic complex generation from libraries of millions of possible realistic fragments. I will then explain how we have trained machine learning (ML) models to predict inherently quantum mechanical properties in inorganic catalysts and materials such as spin-state ordering, redox potential, or even geometry in seconds instead of hours. Such an approach enables rapid discovery of leads from thousands of candidates in a manner that remains intractable with DFT alone.
I will describe how these developments have advanced design principles for earth-abundant single-site catalysts, enabled sustainable materials synthesis, and revealed new unconventional functional materials for spintronics and sensing. I will close with our outlook on the promise of artificial intelligence to enable discovery of essential materials and catalysts for sustainable energy utilization.
Heather J. Kulik is an assistant professor in the department of chemical engineering at MIT. She obtained her BE in chemical engineering from the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. She obtained her PhD from the department of materials science and engineering at MIT working with Nicola Marzari on density functional theory method development for transition metal chemistry.
She then completed postdoctoral training at Lawrence Livermore National Lab with Felice Lightstone on biomimetic catalyst design and Stanford University with Todd Martínez on the large-scale electronic structure of biomolecules.
Since beginning her independent career at MIT, she has received several awards including the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, the DARPA Young Faculty Award, the ACS Open Eye Outstanding Junior Faculty Award in Computational Chemistry, the ACS Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research "2017 Class of Influential Researchers", and a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award at the Scientific Interface.
Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at UC, Berkeley; Chemical Faculty Engineer in the Energy Storage and Distributed Resources Division at LBNL
Photoelectrochemical CO2 Reduction at Plasmonic Nanostructured Metal Electrodes
Electrochemical CO2 reduction (CO2RR) has the potential to regenerate carbon-based fuels from waste carbon dioxide at ambient temperatures. However, high overpotentials and low selectivity toward a valuable product limits CORR's commercial viability.
Plasmon-enhanced catalysis has demonstrated the capability to lower the activation barrier and enhance the selectivity of other catalytic reactions such as water splitting and redox reactions of dyes. Our research aims to understand fundamentals underlying plasmon-generated excited charge transfer from voltage-biased cathodes to CO2 reduction intermediates to selectively and efficiently form desirable hydrocarbon products.
We use a custom, front illumination gas flow cell to probe the mechanism of plasmonic PEC CO2 reduction on noble metals nanostructured by lithography. Gaseous and liquid product and photocurrent is measured while varying electrochemical potential, illumination intensity, light wavelength, temperature, and plasmonic catalyst.
We demonstrate that plasmonic photocurrent on voltage-biased silver (Ag) nanopyramid cathodes is selective for CO2 reduction over the competing hydrogen evolution reaction. Our results suggest that further plasmonic enhancements in selectivity and activity towards specific CO2 reduction reactions are possible by tuning the electrode structure and composition.
Bryan D. McCloskey joined the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley in 2014, and holds a joint appointment as Faculty Engineer in the Energy Storage and Distributed Resources Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
His laboratory focuses on characterization of fundamental electrochemical processes to provide guidance for the development of energy storage, electrocatalytic, and corrosion-resistant materials.
He was previously a Research Staff Member (2012-2013) and postdoc (2009-2011) at IBM Almaden Research Center, where he worked on understanding fundamental characteristics of electrochemical processes occurring in Li-O2 batteries. His PhD thesis (2009), supervised by Benny Freeman at the University of Texas at Austin, focused on molecular transport through microporous and dense polymeric membranes, with a particular emphasis on membranes for water purification.
He received his BS (2003) in Chemical Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines where his research, supervised by Drs. Thomas McKinnon and Andrew Herring, focused on employing molecular beam mass spectrometry to characterize aromatic hydrocarbon formation during pyrolysis of cellulosic chars.
Professor of Chemistry in the Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)
Chemistry of Electrocatalytic Materials
Electrification is an emerging trend in the global energy system. Some estimate that in a net zero emission world electricity should exceed 50% of final energy use, while it only accounts for 20% of current use. Electrocatalysis is set to play a pivotal role in this energy transition, both for the chemical storage of electricity from renewable resources such as solar and wind, and for the end use of electricity in transportation and chemical industries.
Our group has been developing Earth-abundant electrocatalytic materials for energy conversion and storage. In this talk, I will first summarize our earlier discoveries of several novel catalysts for the water splitting reaction, including notably amorphous molybdenum sulfide for hydrogen evolution and single-layered Ni Fe hydroxide for oxygen evolution.
I will also present our latest research efforts to understand electrocatalytic materials at the molecular level through cooperative, single-atom, or double-atom catalysis. These efforts have resulted in remarkable catalysts in oxygen evolution, carbon dioxide reduction, and hydrogen oxidation reactions.
Xile Hu (胡喜乐) was born in 1978 in a small village in Putian, southeastern China. He studied chemistry at Peking University and obtained a BS degree in June 2000. Shortly thereafter, he moved to the United States and began his doctoral study under the guidance of Prof. Karsten Meyer at the University of California, San Diego.
His dissertation research focused on the coordination chemistry of tripodal N-heterocyclic carbene ligands. After receiving a PhD in inorganic chemistry in December 2004, he became a postdoctoral scholar in the group of Prof. Jonas C. Peters at the California Institute of Technology. At Caltech, he worked on the development of molecular hydrogen evolution catalysts.
In July 2007, he was appointed as a tenure-track assistant professor of chemistry in the Institute of Chemical Sciences and Engineering at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. He was promoted to associate professor in January 2013 and full professor in June 2016.
He is the founder and director of the Laboratory of Inorganic Synthesis and Catalysis. His laboratory is developing catalysts made of earth-abundant elements for chemical transformations pertinent to synthesis, energy, and sustainability.